The Squatters (#9)

Ming Zhen Shakya
Ming Zhen Shakya
 To see more literature about Zen and the Art of Investigation:
http://www.zenanthonywolff.com

The Squatters

by Anthony Wolff (Ming Zhen Shakya)

To see all available chapters of “The Squatters” click here

 

Part 9: Coming out of the closet

 

At first, Rick had regarded Helena’s facial repairs as worse than hideous. Her face was swollen and bruised, and though the doctor kept saying, “Beautiful… just beautiful!” about his work, the results did not seem to warrant such a description.  But gradually the swelling subsided and the purple bruises faded to a kind of chartreuse and then vanished altogether. She still had pink scar lines, but just as the doctor predicted, these lines were retreating from view – especially when she wore the right make-up.

Mostly, the sinus repair allowed Helena to be completely free of headaches. Her disposition was… well… Rickthought, sunny.  Yes.  And sun time was work time.  The variance had been granted, and thanks to Anita Begay’s portrait, many people wanted “to sit” for the mysterious “M.”

But Helena wanted more time to heal, not only from the surgery, but from the months of pain and humiliation. She also wanted to spend time with her husband.  They cooked, shopped, and cleaned together.  Rick was content: she was deliriously happy. Rick, however, had spent twenty thousand dollars getting “their” house converted to a professionally zoned artist’s studio.  He knew that he owed Dave Begay an explanation for his financial activities at the hotel and discussing the subject on his own turf was definitely better than being asked for an explanation at another “less convenient” venue. “Helena,” he said sternly, “I’m really disappointed by your failure to follow through with your painting. I’ve gone through an immense amount of trouble to accommodate you and you have taken a rather selfish attitude towards my efforts.”  He frowned, pushed her away, and left the room.  She immediately called Anita Begay and invited her to come the next day to see the new studio.

“Would you mind if my husband brought me?”Anita asked.  “He wants to see the new studio.” What Dave Begay wanted to see was the man behind the Markovitz disguise.  And also, with money laundering an issue, he wanted to be sure that the environment was safe for his wife and the other women in his family.  Anita wanted a portrait of him, too.  He was still thinking about that.

Helena, knowing that Rick wanted to speak privately with Begay, welcomed him to attend. “We’d love to show him our new space.  Let’s make it in the morning for brunch.  We can sit and talk about some of the portraits he said he wanted me to do of your family.  I understand your mother would like me to do her portrait.  Rick would like to speak to him about other things; and if Mr. Begay has to get back to his office, I’ll drive you home, myself.”

And so it was settled. Helena called a hair stylist and, offering to pay whatever it cost, made an afternoon appointment.   She planned to buy new clothes after her hair was styled.

The black van slowly rolled down Lafayette Street as the driver strained to determine the opposition he’d face when he confronted Rick at house #124, “his” old house. Orren Dawson was in the passenger’s seat. “What’ll ya do ifRick’s home, Uncle Don?” he asked.

“Why you askin’?  You plannin’ on helpin’ or hurtin’?” Don Dawson had reached the stage in familial relationships in which it was clear that no one was trustworthy.  “I see you givin’ me the stink-eye like you thought I set them dogs on ya.  I’m gettin’ tired of that look.  I had nothin’ to do with it.  That was your Aunt Olivia’s doin’.  Her and Babs and Paulina Sue. Blame them if you wanna blame somebody.”

“I’m not blaming anybody… not for the dogs and not for the money that was s’posed to fix my face and ear.  It’s gone now.” He paused to change the tone of his voice, edging it with suspicion. “Some people are richer, and I guess that’s life.” Orren now hated everyone he lived with, but revenge was a luxury he lacked the means to afford.  A “retaliation beggar,” he accepted anything he could get. An innuendo… a cynical tone. “A few steal. A few go broke… and so it goes.”

“You heard anythin’?  You pick up somethin’ I oughta’ know?”

Orren seized the opportunity.  “I don’t want to get in hot water by talking outta turn.”

Don Dawson ruffled Orren’s hair. “I’ll protect ya. You can trust me.  Wha’cha hear?”

Orren sighed. “Not much. Babs and Aunt Olivia were talkin’ about Hawaii.  Paulina Sue said Brazil’s the place to go. That’s all I heard.  Oh… somethin’ about needin’ passports.”

“Bitches,” Dawson hissed.  “I guess they got it all planned.  Didn’t invite me.  Didn’t invite you. I always figured they’d dump us.  That’s the kind of cheaters they are.  So… it begins to look like Dodge Rosewall was right.  My own family helped themselves to the money we was gonna give the doctor to fix your face.  Jesus… that just chaps my ass.”  Orren looked away.  He knew the money that had caused the recent trouble had everything to do with Louella Thompson being at the house and that money had never been intended for his facial repairs.

As Don approached #124 he grew angrier.  “I’ll tell you somethin’.  If I find that Rick at home, I’m gonna kill ‘im. Right after he coughs up the money him and your Aunt Olivia and their pals stole from me. Don’t you worry. I’ll make ’em tell me where they hid my money… our money.”  He passed #124.  “Garage door’s open.  And lookie there.  The son of a bitch is hosin’ down my old garage. And his goddamned dog is crappin’ on my old lawn.”  He checked both sides of the street.  “And I don’t see any guard or a car that belongs to a guard.”

“When are we gonna get him?”

“Tonight looks like a good night.  Let’s get a few six-packs and take ’em home and make a plan. And not a word to the women.”

Rick was doing some last minute cleaning.  Dave and Anita Begay were coming to see the studio in the morning and would be stopping at his house.  He had already made sure he had fresh limes and Dutch gin, Schweppes, and Kona coffee.  He had cold cuts and condiments and planned that they’d sit informally in the patio area of his newly renovated hothouse and eat brunch amid  flowers and blooming shrubs without the intrusive presence of servants.  Begay might have some private questions to ask. Helena and Anita would probably go back into the house and drink tea and bullshit about fashions.

Rick turned off the hose and went into his private bathroom to brush his teeth and floss.  He stared at himself in the mirror, wondering if Begay would recognize him without that Markovitz wig and mustache disguise.  He’d tell Begay the truth… well, his version of the truth, anyway.

Helena did not return from shopping until eight o’clock.  Rick pretended to be the frustrated wife. In a falsetto voice he complained, “I slaved over that TV dinner.  Got a paper-cut from opening the box.  Do you care?  No.  You don’t call.  You just do whatever you want with no regard for me. Then you expect me to rollover in bed and act all passionate!”

Helena laughed, blew him a kiss, and began to open boxes.  “Tell me which dress I should wear tomorrow.  And you never mentioned my hair!  Do you like it?”

Rick sat up and looked closely at her.  “You’ve put makeup on.”

“A cosmetician was in the beauty parlor and I let him talk me into buying all new makeup.  He sampled everything on me right there in the shop.  False eyelashes, too.  You like?”

“Frankly, Madam, you’ve never looked lovelier.  Model the dresses for me.  And I see you got shoes too.  Good.  Put your best foot forward.”

He had left the garage door open so that the floor would thoroughly dry and also so that the open garage would help air out the house.  There was still a faint residual stink from the fart and skunk juice. The smell was most noticeable in the living room where his new silk Persian rug lay. The sun shone into the room all morning and the light danced across the colored patterns in hypnotic beauty.  He wanted Begay to see his rug if only in passing.  He also left open the hall door that led out to the garage so that the air could circulate.

Dawson, Andy, and Clive stepped carefully, and Rick did not hear their footsteps in the hallway. Bruno heard the two men enter, but he was in the fenced-in back yard and could do no more than bark.

The three men separated in order to enter the living room from its two exit points.  Suddenly, as Helena lowered a dress over her head, Clive grabbed her from behind with her arms up and head covered, and Dawson pointed a revolver at Rick.  “Just don’t move or her neck gets broken,” Dawson said.  Helena screamed and Clive struck her the back of her head with the butt of his gun.  She sank to her knees dazed and tangled in her dress.

Andy immediately pulled Helena’s hands down from the tangle and forced them behind her, securing them with a zip tie.  He pulled her dress up and tossed it on the floor. Looking at her body, he said, “Nice underwear.”

Dawson smiled.  “Rickie boy! Get on the floor, you son of a bitch.  Markovitz!  You got my insurance money.”  He pulled a zip tie from his pocket.  “Cover me,” he said to Andy as handed him the gun.  Rick lay on the carpet and Dawson cuffed him. Then he pulled out a longer tie and bound Rick’s ankles together.  Andy returned the gun to Dawson and Clive flipped Helena onto her back.  She whined and began to sob, begging them not to kill her or her husband.

“Check the garage for some duct tape,” Dawson said, “and shut her up.”

When both Rick and Helena were silenced with duct tape, Clive said, “Let’s put ’em in the closet and while you and Andy stand guard, I’ll go get the others. We’re gonna tear this joint apart nail by nail.  He’s gotta be keepin’ our dough some place around here.  Guys like Rick don’t believe in Banks.”

Dawson agreed.  “Go get the others.  I wanna see the big reunion ‘tween him and his girlfriend. Tell ’em we’re spendin’ the night here… maybe two nights… maybe three.  I ain’t goin’ back to that dump in Apache County.”

Clive and Andy dragged the two prisoners into a closet and shut the door.  Then, as Andy stayed outside the closet door, Dawson began to walk through the one storey house and Clive drove the van out of the garage.

Clive sat in the driver’s seat and Babs, holding her infant baby, sat in the passenger’s seat. Behind them, on the floor, were the two disabled veterans who had returned to live with them. They each had a suitcase and a wheelchair. Also in the rear sat the two other wives, four children, and a few boxes of clothes and “necessities.”  Orren stood helplessly by the van’s open rear doors.  “There’s no room for you,” Olivia said. She saw the disappointment on Orren’s face.  “I’m not healed, boy. You can see that.  I’m squeezed in here as it is. Clive will come back for ya’.  Make sure all your clothes are in a box and go through the house… ‘specially the trash to make sure there’s nothin’ there with our names on it.”  She winced, trying to reach out to shut the door.

“I got it,” Orren said as he pushed the door closed.  He stood alone in the street as the van pulled away.

From the time that he and Don had seen Rick in the garage, Orren had never been alone. He knew that he couldn’t call Rick on his cellphone since that would leave a record.  He’d have to use a pay phone and there was none within walking distance of the house.  Besides, Don had borrowed his cell and had not returned it. He made a mental note to ask for its return when they came back for him. He hated being alone and the phone gave him a sense of being connected to someone, somewhere.

Rick. He owed Rick his help.  He told himself that there still would be time to help him. Dawson would want to be repaid, and that would mean that Rick would have to be escorted to the bank while Helena was held as hostage. Maybe then, when Dawson got the money back, he’d be given his share of it and he could pay to get his once handsome face restored… and he could help Rick at the same time.

He waited, walking back and forth.  He knew how long it would take to drive to Lafayette Street and back; and as the time far exceeded an even generous allowance for travel time, different images began to form in his mind.  He saw himself still scarred but, as in a video game, he had an assault rifle in his hand, and he was firing at everyone except the vets, Rick, and Helena.  Rick would understand why he needed the money.

He returned to the house and looked at his mostly unwashed clothes that were still in a cardboard box.  Yes, Dawson said he’d kill Rick.  But he wouldn’t kill him right away.  The banks wouldn’t open until the morning.  Meanwhile somebody would come back for him and he’d be there to look out for Rick.  But suppose Rick fought back?  Well, he decided, looking in the empty refrigerator for something to eat, he didn’t have a choice but to let it play out.  Once he was picked up and taken to Lafayette Street, he’d know what the situation was and he’d act accordingly.

Inside the closet, Helena’s first instinct had been to stoop and step through her hands, bringing them in front of her; but she doubted that Rick could do this and she didn’t want to show off in front of him.  No, she’d wait until he suggested it or if it seemed to be a last resort.  Instead she rubbed her face against the top of a boot and freed the tape from her mouth.  The thick “cover-up” makeup had not allowed the tape to adhere to her skin.  She leaned over to Rick and with her teeth, pulled at the edges of the tape until his mouth, too, was uncovered.  “It’s all my fault,” she whispered, crying.  “I wanted those house guards to go.  They kept staring at me.”

“How’s your head?” he asked.

“I guess there’s a bump on it, but I’m ok.”

“I can hear one of them walking around.  I think it’s Dawson.  Clive will be back with the others.  And don’t worry about the guards.  I was getting tired of those old guys intruding into every room… more Peeping Toms than protectors.”

“I’m so sorry,” Helena repeated.

“Forget it.  The drive-by service is still in effect.  One of the security men may see that something’s wrong.” He took a deep breath.  “Meanwhile, we’re on our own. But all is not lost.  I know a way to get free of these ties.”

Helena did not want to offer a better suggestion than the one he claimed to have.  Rick did not like to be out-thought.  “Wonderful,” she whispered, waiting to hear or see it.

Since Dawson had not seen any private cars parked outside either house, he assumed that Rick’s mobile home was parked in some hiding place.  It wasn’t a Hum-V, but with the title transferred to him, he could sell the mobile home.  Or, when the other guys were convinced that it was the women who had the money, they could leave all three of them behind and, with the money, go someplace new.  Alaska.  He had always wanted to see Alaska.  Andy had a license to drive an eighteen wheeler and with that license he could get a job drivin’ on one of those ice roads while he and Clive took the driving course and got their licenses.  Adventure.  That’s what was lacking in his life.  Adventure. Yes, he’d keep the Winnebago. They’d always have a place to sleep while they were on the road.

The van pulled into the garage and Dawson quickly lowered the garage door.  He assigned the bedrooms they’d have.  “Me and Olivia get the master bedroom – but put her in the closet for now. She can lay on that foam slab.” He turned to Andy.  “You and Paulina Sue get the next largest; and Babs and Clive get their pick of the remaining two bedrooms. All the bedrooms had walk-in closets.  They can set up the crib in theirs. The closets in the small bedrooms even got windows. The vets go in the last bedroom.  The kids will be comfortable in the big closet, sleeping on the floor.”  Paulina Sue and Babs helped to make up a bed for Olivia on the closet floor.

Rick and Helena listened for any word or phrase that would indicate what their plans were.  All they could gather was that before they were killed, Rick would have to divest himself of a considerable amount of money.  Helena asked, “It’s all in CDs and government bonds… right?”

“Yes. After I paid the contractors in cash – which is what they preferred – I kept 10K for our expenses and put the rest into bonds and CDs.  Maybe they’ll be satisfied with the Ten thousand.”

The closet door opened.  “Got the tape off I see,” Dawson said.  “Just as well.  We need information. Where’s the Winnebago?

“In a mobil home park,” Rick said.  “Please tell me that you intend to take it and go away… someplace far.”

“Where’s the dough?”

“What dough?” Rick answered

“The dough you got as Markovitz.”

Rick did not look at him.  “What I didn’t spend repairing my house after you all but destroyed it, I fixed Helena’s house into a studio.  You can see the little sign in front of her place. I’m not lying to you.  The rest I gambled away.  It’s gone. We kept a little for expenses.”

Babs stood behind Dawson.  “I heard she was turning the place into an artist studio.”

Dawson ignored her.  “Expenses?  How much and where are ya keepin’ it?”

“Ten thousand.  Bottom drawer, right side of my desk in the den.”

“Locked?”

“No.”

Babs announced, “I’ll get it.”

“No you won’t!” Dawson answered.  “I will!  I think you got enough.  You stay here and practice your hula dance.  From here on in, I handle all the money.”

Babs shrugged.  She did not know why Dawson had taken such an attitude. But whatever the reason was, it was making life more and more unbearable. Hula?  Where did not come from?  She went into the kitchen.  “The place is loaded with food.  Good stuff.  I’m starved.  Get everybody out here.” She motioned to Paulina Sue and the two of them went to help Olivia get seated at the table.

Orren sat on the couch and watched television.  He found a nearly empty box of corn flakes in the trash.  He pulled the waxed-paper insert from the cardboard box and mixed the flakes with some water.  There were no utensils in the drawers.  He tilted his head back and raised the bag, letting the mix slide down into his mouth.  When he looked again for something to eat, he found a large bag of trail-mix that had been pushed to the back of a cabinet’s top shelf.  He gasped with joy as if he had discovered a pirate’s hidden gold.  It pleased him to know that they had missed finding the treasure. He filled an empty bottle with tap water and returned to the couch.  He ran through the TV channels until he found a war movie.  His only ambition at the moment was to finish the bag of trail mix before they came to get him.

He fell asleep watching a late movie.  Then he had that awful nightmare.  He was pounding on the door, begging to be let in, and all his family’s faces were at the windows, looking at him and laughing and nobody would open the door.  He awakened with his heart beating fast.  For a moment he didn’t know where he was.  But the television was still on.  Another movie had just started.  He watched it until the final credits rolled and then he fell asleep again.

The morning light shone through the little windows in the garage doors, forming a row of reddish gold sculpted lamps. Don Dawson, fully awake, had shaken Clive and Andy awake in their beds.  They yawned, showing white congealed saliva in the corners of their mouths.  Mucus had crystallized in the corners of their eyes, making them squint, bleary eyed.

“What’s the problem?” Andy asked.

“Not exactly a problem,” Don said cryptically.  “I just had the best night’s sleep I had in a long time.  Big bed all to myself.”

“Terrific.  So why did you wake us?” Clive asked.

“Because I want to know somethin’.  And I want the truth.  Did you two have anything to do with raiding the ATMs.”

The two men looked offended.  “Where did you get that idea?” Clive asked.

“A little birdie told me that the women are plannin’ to leave the country.  Maybe they have to wait for their passports to come through.  Or maybe tomorrow they’ll be headin’ for Hawaii.  All I know is that they’re dumpin’ us, and it takes big bucks to do what they’re plannin’.  Fuck ’em.  I wanna take Rick’s Winnebago and head up to Alaska. Who’s with me?”

“That was a nice mobile home,”Andy said, “but if we take it we’ll need chains and snow tires and heavy-duty sleepin’ bags and fur lined gloves and boots.  Jesus, Don, it’s winter up there.”

“And we don’t have passports, either,” Clive noted.

“We can take our time gettin’ up there.  I asked a guy where I bought the six-packs.  He said if you stay on the Al-Can highway, you don’t need a passport.  And if he’s wrong, we can put the Winnebago on a ferry and ride on up to Juneau or Anchorage…. or we can stay in Seattle until we get the passports.”

Clive objected. “We’re out on bail. We ain’t gonna get passports.”

Don Dawson smiled tolerantly.  “I can use Rick’s and the two vets have plenty of identification on them. So, are you both in? Andy can drive one of those ice road tractor-trailers while we take the driver’s course. He’s got a license and can make big bucks right away.”

Andy complained.  “It’s in my name, not the vet’s.  I’ll have to be retested.”

“Why?  You can be Andy again as soon as we enter Alaska.”

“Don, for Christ’s sake, the minute you don’t show up for court, a warrant will be issued.  We can’t go back to being who we are.”

“We’ll make Rick withdraw more money. We’ve got Helena.  We got options.”

“The money won’t go as far up there.  Living’s expensive in Alaska,” Andy noted.

“Then,” countered Don, “we’re gonna have to put some hurt on Helena. Let’s see how he feels about paying for her comfort.”  Dawson led the two men back to the closet.  “First let’s let them use the John so they don’t stink up the place.  Then let’s eat.  All this thinkin’ makes me hungry.”

By 10 a.m. Orren had decided that nobody was coming back for him.  They didn’t know about the trail mix.  As far as they knew he hadn’t eaten since he had a baloney sandwich at 5 p.m. the afternoon before. They had left him there to starve.  He began to cry and then to sob in frustration. Not until he was emotionally drained did he realize that he had to go to the bathroom.  He’d put some cold water on his face, he told himself, and that would make him feel better.

The medicine cabinet’s mirror stared back at him. He gulped down a sob and turned on the cold water. He bent over the sink and repeatedly splashed his face. It felt good.  He stood up, took a deep breath, and reached for a towel.  But there was no towel there.  They had taken them all… and the tooth paste and the tooth brushes, too. He whined in despair for a moment and then, zombi-like, he wiped his face with toilet paper and walked out of the house, heading, like a programmed toy, to the expressway. He’d hitch a ride.  He didn’t care where.

As he stood on the side of the highway, he stuck out his thumb to signal passing cars.  It was cold and when nobody stopped, he’d put his hands in his empty pockets. Empty.  He had no money and he knew he needed money. Even if his Uncle Don got all the money, he’d never give him any of it.  Orren knew that now.   He didn’t want to see his family again, but maybe he could find a way to help Rick and Rick would reward him.  He continued walking backwards, sticking his thumb out.  Many cars passed. One of them was a limousine that was transporting Mr. and Mrs. David Begay to the exact location Orren was heading; but he did not know anything about their visit.

Finally, a pickup truck stopped.  Orren ran to it as the window on the passenger’s side went down. “Where you headin’?” the driver asked.

“Frenchman’s Park, just this side of Holbrook.”

“Get in.  It’s on my way.”

Clive noticed the limousine park in front of Helena’s house.  “Look at this!” he called to Dawson.

From the living room’s bay window, Don Dawson watched the chauffeur open the door for the Begays.  He shut the door and they walked up to the front door of the new studio.

“Who the hell are they?” Clive asked.

Dawson went to the closet.  “You got company next door.  Who is it?”

Determined not to help them and also to protect their guests, neither Rick nor Helena answered him. Dawson grabbed Helena’s hair and slammed her head against the door jamb.  Rick yelled, “Stop! It’s Dave and Anita Begay.”

“You should have told us you was expectin’ company,” Dawson said, and again slammed Helena’s head against the jamb. He turned to Andy.  “You got a clean shirt on.  Go out and tell them that Helena’s in here, waitin’ for them. Rick, too.  Invite them nice to come over.”  Helena was crying.  He looked at Rick.  “If she makes a noise, your friends are gonna suffer.”

Andy sounded as though he were a staff member.  “Mr. and Mrs. Begay,” he called.  Madam is waiting here for you.  She says to please come on over.”

As soon as Anita and Dave entered the open front door, Clive grabbed Anita and Andy put Dave in a head lock.  Dawson pointed his revolver at them as he tossed a handful of zip ties to Clive who flung Anita to the floor, knelt on her back, and zip tied her wrists together.

As soon as the choke-hold took effect, Begay slumped to the floor and Andy put restraints on his wrists and ankles.  “Where do you want him?” he asked Dawson.

“Put him in the closet.” Andy dragged Begay across the floor and opened the closet door.  There was not room in the closet doorway and Andy dumped Begay on top of Helena.  He tried to shut the door, but with three people stuck so close to the opening, the door would not shut.

“What about her?” Clive asked, indicating Anita. He rolled her over onto her back. “Let’s have some fun with her.”

Begay had regained consciousness.  Furious, he shouted, “Keep your filthy hands off my wife!”

Andy cupped his hand over Begay’s face and shoved him down on top of Helena.  She had been dazed from the hits to the door jam, but suddenly she shouted frenetically, “Stop it! Just stop it!  You’re all a bunch of animals!  Animals!  Pigs!”

Olivia heard the commotion and, though her legs had not been injured, she came slowly into the living room.  “What’s going on?”  She wore dark sunglasses and could not see clearly.

Suddenly, with no indication that he would respond to her in such a way, Dawson punched the side of her face with his fist and she crumpled to the floor. The punch had two purposes: to scare the Begays into submission, and to let Olivia know that she was not going to get away with robbing him of the ATM money.  Olivia gasped in pain and could not speak.  Blood gushed from her mouth.  Instinctively she crawled away from him to the safety of the other side of a stuffed chair.  “Good Christ,” Rick whispered to Helena, “I can’t see from here.  Is she bleeding on my rug?’

“Where’s my wife?” Begay asked.

“I can’t see either woman,” Helena said.  “He really walloped Oliva.  I think she got herself out of his way.”

Dawson stood in the middle of the room.  “It’s like this.  I’m prospectin’ for gold.  Who gives it, lives.  Who doesn’t, dies. It’s that simple.  Two men and two women.”  He went to the closet.  “Keep Dave in here with his pal Rick.  Tape his mouth shut. And take the two women back to the master bedroom. Got a king-sized bed in there.”  He pointed at Olivia and turned to Andy.  “See to it that she stays quiet. Zip her up.  When Babs and Paulina Sue come in, tie them up too.  And tell the kids to stay in the bedroom with the vets.  Let them watch TV.”

The first time Orren saw the limousine out on the highway, it had been in the inside lane and another passing car had prevented Orren from seeing its license place.  But there was the limousine again, parked at the curb; and now Orren could see the vanity plates “DneBzd” which he knew stood for Diné Bizaad – “Navajo” in its own language. Morgan, the chauffeur, had his head back with his cap pulled down over his forehead to cover his eyes in the morning sun.  The window was down.  “Hey,” Orren asked, “your boss in there with Helena and Rick?”

Morgan pushed his cap back. “What’s it to ya?”

“They could be in big trouble. So what is it? Are they in the Studio?”

Morgan hesitated. Finally he said, “No… they went next door.” He sat up.

“That’s Rick’s house.  They’re in trouble.”

“Trouble? It’s a social call about a portrait.  You’re nuts!”

“The gang of squatters that was here before, came back… it was a kind of home invasion. They’re armed and they intend to kill Rick.”

“What the hell are you talking about?  Squatters..”

Orren stooped and shuffled his way to the passenger’s side.  The door was unlocked and Morgan did not try to prevent him from entering.  Orren knelt down on the floor under the dashboard.  “You armed?” he asked.

“No, of course not.”

“Well, if you got any muscle you can call, you better call ’em quick.  How long they been in Rick’s house?”

The chauffeur looked at his watch.  “An hour.”

“I saw her picture on a magazine.  Wanna bet Dawson’s got her back in a bedroom right now?”

“Dawson?”

“Yeah, Dawson… the leader of the pack.”

“Personally, I think you’re full of shit.  I don’t know what your game is, but I’m not buying it.”

“Prove it to yourself,” Orren countered.  “If everything’s ok, wha’cha got to lose?”

Morgan got out his cellphone and called Dave’s number.  It went to voice-mail.  While the recorded instructions were being given, he frowned and looked at Orren.  “Should I leave a message?” he whispered.  “Mr. Begay would never shut his phone off.”

Orren said, “No message.  Call his wife.”

The chauffer called Anita’s phone and again the call went to voice-mail. He disconnected the call. “What the hell is going on?”

“I’m telling you.  Your boss and his wife walked in on a home invasion.  Three guys are there and some women and kids and a couple of disabled vets.  They ain’t stupid.  They know they hit the jackpot when they got your boss.  They’ll have their way with his wife and he’ll do whatever they tell him to do… and you can bet that’ll be to force him to go back to the casino and get them a bundle of cash.” Orren suddenly saw things clearly.  “Ok…  Here’s what to do.  Call your boss again and leave a message that you just got a bout of stomach flu and are heading for a gas station to use the toilet.  Then drive around the corner and call for help.  They’re desperate so don’t call the cops. Call you own security guys.”

Morgan started the motor and pulled away from the curb. He again called Begay’s phone.  “Sir,  I’ve got a bit of stomach flu and I’ve got to get to a toilet fast.  I didn’t want to interrupt you so I’ll just head for the nearest gas station.  I’ll be back as soon as I can.”  He had reached the corner.  He turned, parked, and called Begay’s personal guard.  As briefly as possible he explained the situation.

The guard was already running to his car. “Take that kid with you back to Rick’s house,” he said. “It’s dangerous, I know, but you might interrupt them and get us some time.  We’re on our way.”

Babs, breast feeding her baby, and Paulina Sue holding Olivia’s young son in her arms, came into the living room.  “What’s all the racket about?” Paulina Sue asked and then stopped short, seeing  the open closet where Andy was bending over David Begay preparing to tape his mouth shut. Andy stopped and looked to Dawson for instructions.  Paulina Sue also saw Dawson pulling a stumbling Anita by the hair and Clive who was pushing Helena across the living room towards the hall that led to the bedrooms. Then she heard Olivia who was propped up on the other side of a stuffed chair. She went to the chair. “Olivia!” Paulina Sue gasped. “What is this?  What are you guys doing?”

The men did not want to hit either woman since both were holding babies.  Clive answered.  “Don knows all about your scheme… how you and your pals… whoever the hell they are… cleaned out the ATMs.  You ain’t going to Brazil, honey.  And you ain’t going to Hawaii.  You’re gonna tell us what you did with the money you stole.  Or the three of you are gonna end up dead.”

“Are you out of your mind?” Babs snarled.  “What bullshit is this?  How stupid can you be, comin’ up with a story like that?”

Paulina Sue was large woman. Half Navajo and half Scandinavian, she was used to defending herself.  For so long as Clive was not holding his gun, she had nothing to fear from him. She gently put the child down and as she began to stand up, she instead body-slammed him, driving her head into his abdomen.  Then she reached up onto a table and let her hand circle a bronze copy of an ancient Chinese horse. She raised her arm and hammered the horse into Clive’s face.  One of the horse’s forelegs lacerated his forehead and the other struck his eye. He screamed in agony as blood from his wound dripped down into both of his eyes.  His hands went to his face and Helena fell to the floor. Dawson released Anita and turned to strike Paulina Sue, but Babs stepped in front of him and he had to check his swing.  He flung Babs aside, and she and the baby tumbled into the stuffed chair.  Then he advanced towards Paulina Sue and grabbed his little son. He pointed his gun barrel at the child’s head and said, “Back off.”  Paulina Sue stood motionless.

Andy shouted.  “Tell her to take the kid back.”  He looked at his wife.  “And stay there. Get your ass in a back bedroom and watch those kids.  Keep ’em there.” He turned to Babs and the baby who was now crying.  “And take her with you.  Now!” Paulina Sue took the child from Dawson and with Babs following, retreated to the rear of the house.  Dawson picked up Anita, and while Clive groaned about his eye, Andy picked up Helena who was still in her underwear, and the two men tossed the cuffed women onto the couch.  Suddenly, everything, except Clive’s whimpering, was quiet.   Dawson, Andy, and Clive went into the foyer to discuss their plan.

The closet door was partially open. Dave and Rick had watched helplessly as their wives were manhandled. Dave had not been gagged.  “I should have never let you launder money in my place,” he hissed at Rick.

“In case you haven’t noticed,” Rick cooly replied, “that’s my wife… the other woman… they’ve got.  And don’t be so naive.  These hooligans have nothing to do with the money I exchanged.” He felt like his old superior self and rather enjoyed taking a kind of scolding attitude to the CEO.

“What the hell do they want?”

“My house, for starters.  They were squatting in it and Tom Wauneka helped me to get them out.”

“I know.  He told me.  And Dodge Rosewall came looking for you.  Whose attorney is he?”

“Not mine and not Helena’s. My guess is that our temporary host, Mr. Donald Dawson, hired him.”

The doorbell rang.  Dawson, holding his gun behind him, and Andy went to the door. “Who is it?” Dawson shouted.

“Orren.  Open up.”

Andy unlocked and opened the door.  Orren and a uniformed man stood at the entrance.  “Wha’cha do?” Dawson said to Orren, “call a goddamned cab to bring you here?”  Orren did not know what to say.

“Actually,” Morgan explained, “I gave him a ride on my way back from the gas station. Is my employer here?  I wanted to tell him I’m back, safe and sound.  His cellphone was off.”

“Come on in,” Dawson said.  As Orren and the chauffeur entered the living room, Dawson kicked Orren from behind and sent the boy sprawling to the floor.  He pointed his gun at Morgan and told him to sit down and be quiet.  He kicked a couple of zip ties that lay on the floor towards Andy.  “Zip the driver,” he ordered.  “This is turning into a goddamned circus.”  He sat on the couch and put his face between his hands,  “Let me think,” he said.  A moment later he began to give orders.  “As long as we got his wife, Begay don’t have a choice. I’ll take the pruning shears and cut him and the driver loose.”  He went to the closet and cut all of Begay’s restraints.  “You’ll have to go back to your office and get back here before 1 p.m.  That don’t give you much time to mess around. Any tricks and I’ll cut up her fuckin’ face up so bad she’ll have to walk around with a bag over it.”  He walked to the couch and cut the zip tie Andy had just put on the chauffeur.

Clive was useless and could only whine and hold his forearm up to his damaged eye. Rick shimmied out of the closet far enough to see Clive.  “Will someone get this man a towel!” he shouted. Nobody moved.  Instead, Dawson grabbed Anita and held his gun to her throat.  He looked at Begay and Morgan, and then he growled, “Get movin’. And don’t come back with petty cash or chips.  We want cash…. get it right outta the countin’ room.  Twenties, fifties, hundreds.  All used bills.  And as many thousand of ’em as you can carry in a big sack. Just keep askin’ yourself how much your wife’s face is worth.”

Holding Anita by the hair, he went to Orren who was still lying on the floor and kicked him. “You had to spoil everything.  Stupid fuckin’ kid.  Didn’t have enough sense to cover your goddamned face when the dogs attacked.  Then you come in here now and ruin the party.”  He kicked him again. Anita twisted away from him and tried to run to her husband. Andy blocked her and Dawson grabbed her again. He flung her onto the floor and kicked her, too.  He pointed his gun at her head.  “Get movin'” he said to Begay and his chauffeur.

“Please!” Morgan begged. “I’ve got stomach flu.  At least let me go to the bathroom first. If I get a cramp I won’t be able to drive. That’s why I had to go to the gas station.”

Orren said, “He was sick before. Got the runs.”

“Andy,” Dawson ordered, “take him back but don’t let him outta your sight.”  David Begay had knelt on the floor to help Anita who had had the wind knocked out of her by Dawson’s kick.  “Get back in the closet,” Dawson ordered, but first put your hands behind your back.  “Clive!” he yelled. “Forget your goddamned eye and cuff him again.”  Clive tightened a zip tie around Begay’s wrists while Dawson kept his gun pointed at Anita.  Begay crawled on his knees a few feet and got back into the closet.  Dawson slammed the door shut.

One of the children came running into the room, crying.  Helena knelt down and tried to comfort him. “Don’t you want to watch cartoons?” she asked.  Dawson got up, shouted at the boy to go back to his room, and pushed Helena’s head down to the floor.  She lay face down, wondering if there was anything that she could do to help.  It would be no problem for her to step through her bound hands and at least bring them in front of her.  But when should she do it?

“Don!” Clive whined.  “I’m hurt bad.  I can’t see outta one of my eyes.”

“Ya lost a fight with a woman, for Christ’s sake.  Stop advertisin’ that you’re a pussy.”  He went to the hallway and yelled, “What the hell is taking so long? Put a goddamned diaper on him and let’s get the show on the road.”

Outside, two cars filled with casino security men, passed #124 and saw the limo.  They knew which house was their target.