The Squatters (#6)
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by Anthony Wolff (Ming Zhen Shakya)
Part 6: Quid Pro Quo Crime, but no “draws” allowed
It did not take long for the squatters to discover that their dog-bite bounty had disappeared.
Since he and his family now lived in Apache County, Dawson, with Olivia waiting in the van, had gone directly to the bank to pick up his bank statement. He trembled, stunned, to see that he and Olivia had a mere $4,908 in the bank. A photocopy of his $650K check to Julius Markovitz accompanied the statement. He asked about the transaction and was told that evidently he had invested in property in Mexico, as it indicated on the check. Dawson didn’t know any Markovitz and he certainly hadn’t purchased property in Mexico. Why, he wondered, had Olivia not mentioned any of this to him? His mouth had gone dry and his heart was beating wildly as he asked the clerk for more information. The clerk shrugged and told him to talk to the manager of Markovitz’s bank. He was also given a copy of the certified letter that he had signed. “Oh,” Dawson said, “well, thanks.”
He stumbled from the bank and confronted his wife. “Who the hell is Markovitz?” When she denied knowing anyone by that name, he did not believe her. “Somebody does,” he said, “and I mean to find out who that somebody is.” He drove to Markovitz’s bank and walked into the manager’s office without being announced. “How much money is in this fella Julius Markovitz’s account?” he asked.
The manager was familiar with the strange real estate deal. “The account has been closed and that is all that I am prepared to tell you,” the manager said, nodding to a security guard who entered the office and with a gesture indicated the direction Dawson should take to find the front door exit.
Dawson went home, seething in anger, certain that his wife had double-crossed him. Maybe Harry Nicholson had something to do with it. He didn’t know what to think. There were so many possibilities.
Since Rick had officially dropped the charges against him, and Cincinnati had withdrawn the warrant, he had only Helena’s door and circuit breaker box to worry about and, of course, the messy business about the child-molestation charges. A friend who had once been Dawson’s “cellie” in prison had rented a room from him several years before. This was the man who had molested Shawna; but Dawson decided not to report him since such a report would have violated the man’s parole and sent him back to prison. Olivia was furious with him about his decision. Maybe, he thought, she might be trying to get even with him for that. If she conspired with someone to steal the insurance money, she could easily claim that he was the one who had defiled the girl. He had to be careful with Olivia, he told himself.
“What’s our next move?” he asked her.
Olivia could not comprehend the loss of so much money. She stared into space and said, “I guess you need a lawyer. The one who handled Orren’s medical problems doesn’t handle criminal matters.”
There was only one attorney who might be interested in taking his case since it was known that he no longer represented Helena Maxwell. Don Dawson therefore went to see J. Dodge Rosewall, Esq.
Rosewall listened intently, instinctively sensing that some how, some way, Rick Dubrovsky had something to do with the missing funds. “I don’t want to take your last cent,” Rosewall said, “so let’s go down to your bank before it closes and give me $4,000 as part of my retainer. I know people over at Markovitz’s bank. I’ll find out more about his account. I think we have good reason to hope we can recover your money.”
Dawson had to wait in the parking lot as Rosewall entered and took some literature from a table. He exchanged looks with a teller he had known for years. He looked at the clock and raised 3 fingers. She nodded. He tossed his head indicating “outside.”
They waited in the parking lot and at 3 p.m. the teller came out of the bank. Rosewall asked her if she had heard anything about Markovitz’s account. “That’s all everybody’s been talking about,” she said.
“Where did the money go?”
“His checks were all cashed at Indian casinos. If you want more information,” she paused to smile sardonically, “you can always ask them.”
“Yeah,” Rosewall said. “Like you can get blood out of a stone.” He put a curled-up hundred dollar bill in the palm of her hand and closed her fingers around. “Take care of yourself,” he said and put his hand on Dawson’s shoulder and gently pushed him away.
As they walked to his car, Rosewall said with a low growling determination, “This means we’ll have to hire an investigator – a Navajo P.I. – thank God I know a good one. Don’t worry. We’ll find out what we need to know about this fellow Markovitz.”
“What’s this P.I. gonna cost?” Dawson asked.
“They all start with money up front. They always tell you they’ll return what they don’t spend, but he’s the only one I’ve ever dealt with who actually does. He’ll find out if he registered alone, or with a woman, or just used the hotel’s escort service.”
“So how much?”
“Fifty thousand, but he can hit the jackpot right away. If Markovitz brought the same woman to two different hotels, that means he’s traveling with someone… a partner, maybe. He’ll get a description and won’t have to look farther. We’ve got a good chance of getting most of your money back.”
“I don’t have 50K.”
“Somebody who knows your business does. Maybe that pot of gold is sitting right under your bed. And Don… remember… this will only lead you to the people who have victimized you. You still have to go to trial on charges you victimized others. Find that money! You’re gonna need it. But first you’ve got to learn the identity of the thieving serpent in your bosom. Get that Fifty.”
The Catch 22 dilemma was not lost on Dawson. “I can’t get the money till I know who took it and I can’t know who took it till I come up with the money.”
“Use your imagination. You’ll think of something.”
Rick and Helen did not live exclusively in either residence. They needed to have a presence in Rick’s house, if only to nullify any claim that it had been abandoned. As soon as the last repair was made, the home began to acquire an atmosphere that was more conducive to creative thinking, at least in Rick’s opinion. Helena brought many living room pieces that she had moved into a spare room to create her yoga and meditation room.
“You know what I think,” Rick asked.
“I think your portrait of the Indian woman was gorgeous. You’ll get a lot of business from it. Her husband is showing that painting off to the world. Let’s get started with the renovations to your house. When can you change the deed to read both our names as joint tenants? And then I’ll commission the contractors who have done such a great job on this house to work on yours. You could use a little publicity, too. But first we also have to figure out a way to get everybody on the street to agree to a variance to the zoning restrictions. We’ll need their permission to use a residence as a professional building.”
“My bank has multiple services. I can transfer the deed there and they’ll even take it to the recorder’s office. We’ll have to pay the stamp taxes on the transfer but I think I can cover that with no problem. As to the variance, I’m sure you’ll figure out a way.”
“Maybe while the work is being done we can run up to Vegas and get hitched. How does that sound?” He tweaked her nose.
“Like an invitation to Heaven.”
Babs, Paulina Sue, and Olivia decided that it had to be the Nicholsons who were behind the theft of Orren’s settlement money. They wanted to get even with Harry and Pamela, but Dawson ruled them out. “Don’t go starting trouble with them or else they’ll get my bail revoked. I don’t think it’s them. What’s more important right now is that I don’t like this hole in the wall you picked to live in.” He turned to his wife and gave her a disapproving look. “You coulda found a nicer place. I liked our old neighborhood. I’m thinkin’ now about the folks who lived on the other side of us – the Thompsons. They scare easy and they got money. Makes more sense to grab one of their kids and make ’em pay to get him back. We need money quick.”
Paulina Sue shook her head and stood up. “Kidnapping? Things aren’t bad enough and you want to add kidnapping? And we’re supposed to help you? This is just your way to get us included as defendants. Until now, you, Clive and Andy were the only ones in trouble. What happens to the kids if we all get charged?”
“Sit your ass down!” Don demanded. “You’re in it same as us. You got a better idea? Big mouth bitch! You tell us your big idea!” Pamela Sue had no idea to share. The need for such an immense sum had never occurred before.
Babs looked at Olivia. “It’s your decision. Olivia knew from Don’s attitude towards her that he suspected her of having stolen the money. More, he intimated that she was making plans to exclude him from future adventures. Fearfully, she looked at Don and nodded. Babs stood up and began to give orders. “We’ll get a room ready for the kid. We can glue paper over the window and put padding under the door. The bedrooms all have radiators. We can just keep the kid hooked up to the radiator. We won’t need more than a couple, three days.” Babs walked back and forth a few times. “It’s February… spring time. They all walk home from school. We’ll catch one – it don’t matter which one – and get the money. I got the best penmanship. I’ll write the ransom note and leave a space blank until we know which kid we catch.”
Dawson said. “We’ll tell ’em to leave the money in a trash can at a rest stop on the interstate. If the money’s all there, they’ll get the kid back.”
This, then was the extent of their planning.
On Monday, they waited in a white van as a group of kids came by heading home from school. Babs, wearing a wig that looked nearly identical to her own hair, false teeth, and glasses, got out and stooped down as if she were looking under the van. As one of the Thompson girls approached, Babs asked, “Have you seen my kitty? I lost my little kitty.”
“What color is it?”
“It’s orange like…. have you ever seen an orange kitty?”
“Yeah, sure.” The children with whom she had been walking yelled for her to come and she replied that she’d be there in a minute. They kept walking.
As soon as the little girl stooped down to help Babs look under the van, the rear door opened and Dawson swooped down and, cupping his hand over the girl’s face, lifted her into the van. He wore a latex Halloween mask to conceal his identity. Telling her that if she made a noise, they’d hurt her mommy and daddy, she stayed quiet. Babs put on latex gloves and got out the unfinished ransom note. “What’s your name?” she asked the sobbing child.
Don answered. “It’s Louella, stupid,” he said, whispering in Babs’s ear. “Jesus, woman, she lived next door to you for a year and you don’t remember her name? Louella Thompson.” Babs filled in the name.
“Louella,” Olivia asked, “what is your Daddy’s telephone number?” Before the rest of the kids could get within two blocks of their home, the van drove to Lafayette Street, stopped at the Thompson’s mailbox, and placed the ransom demand in it. They immediately continued on to their new squatting place.
They gave Louella some candy and ice cream as they shackled her to the radiator.
The demand was for $500,000. The note concluded, “Instructions will follow. Don’t call cops or she dies.”
In the house’s broken down garage, Dawson, Clive, and Andy quickly masked the van’s chrome and glass, and, using a professional paint sprayer, Dawson painted the white van black.
Harry Nicholson came to Helena’s house to tell her and Rick the news. “Looks like Dawson’s trying to get Five hundred Gs out of the Tompsons. Where the hell are they gonna get $500K?” he asked.
Rick’s expression registered doubt. “How do they know it’s Dawson? He ought to be flush with all that money he got for Orren’s dog bites.”
“You’d think so… but no. Dawson’s supposed to be busted again. They’re still living in that squatter’s dump in Apache County…on Tarryton Drive. My kid’s math teacher was goin’ that way and saw them when they were unloading their stuff. And he says they’re still there. Only this time he got Rosewall to represent him for his upcoming trial… or maybe to get the money back. What a joke.”
Helena sniffed. “Rosewall will keep them poor… if nothing else. And it doesn’t surprise me at all that he’d take ransom money as his retainer.”
“Now, dear,” Rick commented, “we don’t know that the kidnapper is Donald Dawson. Let’s not jump to conclusions.”
The Thompsons, understandably confused and terrified, called their parents and other relatives begging for money to pay the ransom. Both grandparents mortgaged their homes and other close relatives borrowed money using credit cards or their homes as collateral. It would take another day or two to get the mortgage money and fly it to Arizona.
“We’ll have to stall the kidnappers,” Thompson told Harry Nicholson. “We can’t get that money before seventy-two hours and we’re still short.” They had used Harry’s phone to call their friends and relatives. They needed to keep their lines open for the ransom call, but no call came.
Dawson had gone out walking, looking for a public phone but the only ones he found had been vandalized. He returned home. “I’ll try again tomorrow. The van’ll be ready by then.”
Rick Dubrovsky thoroughly enjoyed his life with Helena Maxwell. It would be worth paying for her plastic surgery. He was tired of playing games and he needed an income. Yes, with a little effort her house could be turned into an artist’s studio with maybe a room for teaching yoga. She was so incredibly nimble and he had seen for himself the extent of her talent. Why… signing “Dubrovsky” to her portraits would, he thought, bring additional honor to his name. Yes… he would marry her and then get her to a plastic surgeon to have some of those goddamned scars removed. He’d need the good will of the neighbors. He did not want to move and he disliked the idea of renting a studio facility somewhere else. What? Then rent out her house? No, no more renters or unpleasant neighbors. He needed a zoning variance. Well, he thought, he had Harry and Pamela’s good will. And the Thompsons? How could he go about getting theirs? And the folks who lived in the two other houses on Lafayette Street’s spacious block? He’d have to work on that.
When the neighbors heard about the ransom (neither Harry nor Pamela could resist gossiping about it) Helena and Rick went to the Thompsons and offered to donate Ten thousand dollars, “If such a small sum would help.” Rick regretted that he could not pay more. The Nicholsons could offer nothing, but the other two families did manage to match his donation and as the Thompsons finally began to amass the necessary amount, the extra Thirty thousand dollars did, in fact, complete the needed sum. They were so grateful. Rick led them in prayer.
“You,” Helena later said to him, “have been sent to me by God. I kept the faith. I did not retaliate against my oppressors. I knew that if I prayed hard enough an angel would come and he’d lead me in the ways of their destruction. Do with me whatever you will. I am your eternal servant.”
Rick rather liked that. Lascivious thoughts that had lain dormant for many months were suddenly vivified. He imagined strange and mysterious things he would do to Helena. “When this kidnapping crisis is over, we’ll go up to Vegas and make it legal!” He laughed as she flung herself into his arms.
The next day Dawson found a servicable phone in a gas station. He called the Thompsons and disguising his voice as much as possible said that the money should be put in a shopping bag and left in a trash can at the rest stop where Interstate 40 meets Cataract Lake Road. “Thursday at 7p.m. We’ll count it and if it’s all there we’ll call and tell ya where the kid is. Don’t be late and no cops.” Harry Nicholson was at the house when the call came in.
One of the Thompson’s set of parents was driving down from Utah. The other was flying in from Pennsylvania. Jack Thompson had his car ready to drive down to the Phoenix airport to meet them at two o’clock. In case Jack had unexpected car trouble, Harry offered him his own car which he had gassed up and ready to go.
On Thursday Jack Thompson brought his parents home from the airport, put more gas into his car and set out to deliver the money. He gave himself extra time. At the turnoff, he parked at the far end of the rest area’s parking lot. It was dark at seven o’clock. He got out of his car and walked to the trash can at the other end of the lot. He placed the shopping bag that looked as though it was filled with old cups and wrappings in the trash can, then he returned to his car and waited.
Several people threw trash in the receptacle but their bodies always seemed to block his view. He could not tell if any of them removed the shopping bag. Finally, his phone rang. His wife called to tell him that she had heard from the kidnappers. They got the money and said Louella was inside the bathroom there. He lay the phone down without disconnecting the call and rushed to the bathroom, calling his daughter. When she heard his voice, she shouted for him and he grabbed her and cried with joy. He returned to his car. “She’s fine.. Here… I’ll let you talk to her.”
Rick waited on the other side of the expressway until he saw the newly painted black van enter and then leave the rest area. He followed the van into Apache County and saw the house Dawson was squatting in. In the morning, he returned and waited for several hours to follow Dawson and see where he took the money. Dawson would not, Rick reasoned, leave it at home in a house filled with thieves. But he might put it into a safe deposit box. That would present a whole new problem. Rick, wearing a sandy-blonde mullet hairstyle wig and glasses, followed Dawson into the bank and watched to see if he headed for the “New Accounts” or the “Safe Deposit Box” section.
Dawson reasoned that since he had already lost the settlement money – a large amount which had been flagged by the IRS and cleared – he should deposit the new money in the same bank and say that it was the settlement money which he had gotten back when the Mexican land deal fell through. He therefore opened a new account at his old bank and explained the money’s source to the manager. “I never liked that Mexican deal,” he said. “My wife talked me into it. We was supposed to make money on the deal. Instead, as you can see, we lost it. So I’ll keep it safe in my name only.” The manager understood.
Rick called an old friend in Las Vegas who had a connection to an illegal hacking service. A new bank account would offer a debit/credit card; and the bank would order the new card through a company that manufactured plastic credit cards, and from this company the account number could be obtained for $21,000 sent in three wire transfers of $7,000 each to three different names. Rick wired the money.
Rick and Helena went to each of the houses on Lafayette Street and invited everyone to come to their house to celebrate Louella’s safe return. “I’ve engaged a special armed and mobile guard to watch our street,” he said. “We can relax and order a keg and some pizza.”
“But let’s do it here,” the Thompsons insisted. “This is our treat. Probably the last treat we’ll have… but it’s worth the celebration tonight.”
Everyone became friends, fulfilling Rick’s plan to obtain the zoning variance. “I’m gonna say just one thing about this nasty event…and then let’s say no more about it tonight. The $10K I gave I intended to use for my wonderful Helena’s engagement ring. She knew this and said to me, “Every time Louella puts her arms around her mother or father’s neck, she’ll make a ring of her arms. And that will be my engagement ring.” Everyone cooed.
Harry joked, “And just wait until she starts showing that left hand off to her friends!” Now, everyone laughed.
“I’m getting dizzy already,” Jack Thompson said. “Up and down and all around and all of a sudden she starts gesturing wildly.” He imitated Helen showing off her big man-ring. Yes, it was a good night.
Rick, certain that no one would oppose the variance, announced, “Now that the crisis is past, Helena and I will go up to Vegas and get married tonight. And then, tomorrow morning, let’s all meet and figure out a way we can get that money back. I believe that I have a way… I’ll know tomorrow. I’ll need you all.” The grandparents had not intended to stay, but the prospects of getting their money back so quickly glued them in place.
That night, Rick and Helena got married in Las Vegas. He hoped no one would recognize him, but he had lost so much weight since he was last seen there that no one was familiar with his body profile.
In the morning, he drove past his old house and was disappointed to see that the landscaping had been perfectly maintained. “Fucking Mafia,” he hissed.