7:43 on a Monday morning and I’m stuck with this Chatty Cathy of a mug in a minivan, in a suburban parking lot. We are packing a shotgun, a crappy Glock-knock off, and a ski mask apiece. He may have gotten me this gig, but if he doesn’t shut up soon, I’m going to empty all four of our guns into him and call it a day.
“Uh, I like to get mentally ready with some silence,” I offer, leaving him the chance to shut it. “I need to focus, ya know?”
“Well, it’s just that…” he trails off. His sad face turns even more forlorn and oh, Lord, please tell me he doesn’t want to cry on my shoulders.
“What’s…what’s wrong?” Did I just say that?
“I’ve got a terminal disease.”
Shit, what the hell do I do? I wouldn’t hug a friend of less than five years over something like this. I certainly don’t want to embrace a near-stranger. What does he have? Cancer? ALS? Maybe the big disease with the little name? He gets his wallet out, opens it, almost shows me a picture, and then quickly pockets it.
“What?” I ask, and I’m beginning to suspect that this disease is really some kind of dementia.
“That’s not right, ‘disease’ isn’t the word. It’s more like a ‘condition.’ Do you watch Bugs Bunny cartoons?”
“Sure,” I reply. Should I plug him right here? I mean, my fingerprints are all over this stupid minivan. I can’t simply walk away and risk him getting caught in this vehicle, knowing that they will check for prints after. If I plug him now, it’s an unnecessary murder rap and I’ll have to torch this, but maybe it would be better than walking into a situation with this unstable nut ready to go off the rails.
“Well, it’s like the one with Elmer Fudd and Humphrey Bogart,” he says with the assurance that he just told me everything. The only thing he has really told me, is that I should be contemplating just which kind of accelerant is the most effective in destroying evidence.
“How does a cartoon relate to your ‘condition?’” Gawd, listen to me. If we get caught and sent up for a long stretch, maybe I should become a jailhouse shrink.
“It’s the one where Bogie tells Elmer that he better serve up a fried rabbit, ‘or else.’!”
I mull it over for a few, and then it comes to me. “Yeah, yeah,” I reply, “Bogart says, ‘Why did you hit me in the face with a coconut custard pie with whipped cream?’”
“And then, when Bogie says, ‘Baby will just have to have a ham sandwich instead.’ What does Bug do?”
It’s been years, but it comes to me as if it is after school again, and I’m sitting in front of the TV, eating graham crackers. “He comes out of hiding, jumps on the plate right in front of Lauren Bacall, and he says, ‘Remember, garçon the customer is always right! If it's rabbit Baby wants, rabbit Baby gets!’”
He holds his arms open with a grin, and me? I’m left to fill in the blanks again. I chew it over, and my mind still draws a blank.
“You see, that’s my problem; what Baby wants, Baby gets. If I showed you her picture, you’d get my predicament right away. Fuck Lola and “Damn Yankees,” that cartoon “Slick Hare” came out almost eight years before the Broadway show. For the purposes of this conversation, let’s call her “Bebe.” When we watch a TV show and they mention some kind of exotic shoe brand or $1,000 handbag, she’ll ask me for it and that’s what I’ll get her. I dropped $2,800 on three pairs of shoes for her the other day.”
“So you’re saying that some piece of ass has you pulling heists, so that she can keep up with the Joneses?”
At this point, I have to ask myself, who’s the bigger chump? Is it me for letting a friend of mine talk me into becoming a substitute stick-up man for him? Or is it the moron sitting next to me? When will it end for him? Will he wind up having to steal everything in the world that isn’t nailed down, just to keep this woman happy?
“She’s not some piece of ass, she’s “Bebe.” She is the piece of ass. Helen of Troy might have been the face that launched a thousand ships, but if that whole thing was about Bebe? All of those stupid Trojans wouldn’t have waited on the ships to be built and they would’ve swum in their armor and full gear.”
“She’s all that to you, huh?”
He doesn’t answer, and he goes blank as a TV with the cable disconnected. This mutt is gone; he’s got it worse than any junkie or gambler I’ve ever worked with. And by “mutt,” I mean that this guy is dog-ugly, so I’m guessing she isn’t all that hot. Money can only change so much, and I doubt that there is enough of it to make him appealing enough to the woman he described.
He apparently loves her, though I wouldn’t call what they have “love.” Either way, he’s got it bad and he’s probably right about this being a terminal thing. Hopefully, we’ll get the money, get out of here without getting caught and I’ll never have to deal with his whipped-ass again.
“Hey, are you ready for this, Romeo? Or do you want to back off and try this another day?”
“I’m good, and when it comes to jobs, I always have my head on straight. I’ve been trying to keep her happy for two years straight, and it’s worked beautifully…so far.”
“Okay,” I mumble with a nod. I look the minivan over and mention, “We need to roll down the windows, because fogged-up windows will draw the wrong attention.”
“No, take a quick peek at the other cars that have been sitting here and you’ll see it’s okay. He won’t be able to see in. Our windows have the same condensation on the outside as the other cars that have been left here overnight.”
I rub the window a little bit and see that this is the first thing that he’s gotten right. The other cars, including a few that have been left here with for sale signs, have the same watery buildup. I also see a BMW 5-series pulling into the parking lot, and it’s definitely the bank manager’s car. I duck back down and I nod to him.
He pulls the mask over his face and he whispers, “C'mon, Baby needs a new pair of shoes.”