Friday, April 12, 2013

Quietus - Chapter Two

By William Van Poyck

Click here for Chapter One

In the rising chop Danny found the inflatable as maneuverable as a hard-mouthed horse, bucking in the ebb tide, slamming the waves, spraying salty curtains overhead. Hunkered down, straining at the tiller, he peered into the darkness, urging the boat forward. Twenty wet and tense minutes later he rounded the island’s tip, turned south and motored into the broad, restless Atlantic, unfolding ceaselessly all the way to Africa. The marching swells were rougher here, relentless, thumping, striking broadside, hurling the craft about perilously. Suddenly the plan did not seem so clever and, for a brief moment, as doubt stole in, Danny considered aborting the trip. But this was a carefully chosen night, marked by a favorable synchrony of events. First, there was no moon. Second, Von Scharnhorst was hosting a lavish dinner party benefitting a local charity that adopted out retired polo ponies. Danny preferred working when the occupants were home and most alarms were off. Tonight, he knew, The German would be very busy. It was now or never. With knotted stomach he pushed away all doubt and willed himself onward.

To Danny’s left lay darkness, black as Styx. To his right, stretching away like gobbets of sparkling gems on a great bejeweled kebab, a continuous chain of mansions slid by, their lights reaching out like pearly fingers probing the parlous sea. Squinting like a gunfighter into the blowing salt spray, Danny porpoised through the waves, motoring on, relentless as a rockslide, adrenaline surging through his veins. When the brilliantly lit Kennedy compound finally hove into view Danny knew he was close. Minutes later he steered toward shore.

Cutting the engine at the last moment he crouched low as curling surf propelled him onto the beach. The dinghy’s bottom scraped roughly across the wet sand. Bounding out, Danny tugged the boat up into a thick grove of sweetly scented hibiscus bushes. Kneeling in the dirt, forcing himself to breathe slow and deep, fighting to calm his racing heart, he surveyed the brightly lit main residence, every fiber of his being hyper-alert. He was on the farthest, darkest corner of the beach and the house sat a hundred yards up a gently sloping lawn dotted with majestic royal palms. Danny pulled a black ski mask down over his face, zipped open his bag and retrieved a small battery-powered electronic dog zapper, which he hung around his neck by a nylon cord. The ultra-high frequency sound emitter, inaudible to humans, would drive off The German’s three Rottweilers if they appeared. It’d better work, he often mused, because he didn’t like or carry guns. Sliding the duffel bag out of the garbage bag Danny hung the strap on his shoulder and jogged up the lawn toward the house. Trotting across a coquina stone driveway running along the side of the villa, he ducked down at the base of a thick hedge pressing against the house. He duck walked down the hedge line until he reached a corner where the garage jutted out. It was dark and quiet and exactly where he wanted to be.

Standing up, Danny examined the sheet metal junction box attached to the wall, his eyes following the telephone wires leaving the house, up to a pole, and on down the property line toward the street. Using a screwdriver he removed the box cover, revealing the conduit pipe containing the main trunk line. Wielding a plumber’s pipe cutter and small hacksaw, Danny cut away the conduit, exposing a bundle of colorful wires. Working swiftly he stripped away the insulation on each wire until they all gleamed like new gold. From his bag he pulled out a small, homemade black box. Technically known as a Wheatstone bridge, it was a digital galvanic equalizer, built by Danny from Radio Shack parts. Designed to match impedance using half taps, it measured incoming signals to the alarm system, as well as the corresponding outgoing signals, and generated an exact duplicate signal. This bridged the system, fooling it into believing that every contact was intact, no matter how many interior wires or contacts were broken or tripped. With a digital voltmeter and alligator clips Danny carefully read the voltage for each wire—incoming and outgoing—then adjusted his black box accordingly. When every wire was connected to the box he held his breath and flipped the switch. When the row of tiny red lights blinked on Danny exhaled in relief. The system was now bypassed. The house belonged to him.

Nestling the black box deep into the hedge Danny shouldered his bag and moved past the big triple-bay garage, idly noting Von Scharnhorst’s two-tone, brown-on-tan Rolls Royce. Much farther down the drive a gaggle of parked cars spilled across the front lawn. Darting through the shadows Danny stopped beneath a second floor balcony. Somewhere in the distance he heard faint strains of chamber music. From his bag Danny pulled a small, cloth-wrapped steel grappling hook and knotted nylon rope. Without hesitation he tossed the hook up and over the ornate stone balustrade, pulling the rope tight until the hook caught. With practiced ease he climbed the rope and pulled himself over the balcony, dropping onto the cool Spanish tile floor. Squatting down, he examined the French door. It was locked. Rummaging in his bag he found a small, thin-bladed steel pry bar. Within seconds he gently popped the door open, crawled inside and closed the door behind him.

Cool, conditioned air, freighted with a faint metallic scent, washed over Danny. Eyes closed, he concentrated to orient himself. He was, he knew, in an unused bedroom, dark as the inside of an oil barrel. Moving decisively he crossed the room, stopped to listen at the door, then stepped out into a hallway. Faint murmurs of conversation, fractured by occasional laughs, drifted up from Danny’s left. The party was downstairs, in that direction. Turning right, he strode down the carpeted hallway, counting doors, mentally calculating. Turning left he stepped through an archway and squarely faced a heavy, elaborately carved wooden double door. This was it, the study. Danny’s gloved hand gripped the bronze handle. Locked.

Kneeling down, acutely conscious of his vulnerability, Danny quickly examined the lock, then unzipped a small vinyl case holding an assortment of lock picks. Knowing the average-quality door lock in front of him could probably be raked—a cruder, less time-consuming version of picking—Danny slid an L-shaped tension bar into the keyhole with his left hand and inserted a slim spring steel rake with his right hand. Applying a light, steady pressure with the tension bar he rapidly raked the tumblers, back to front. Beaded sweat dripped from his nose as the metallic rasp seemed to fill the hall. Suddenly the tension bar swung in an arc and the lock gently opened. A familiar thrill of victory washed over Danny as he slipped inside and closed the door.

The scent of stale cigar smoke tickled his nostrils as Danny crossed a large room oozing richly paneled mahogany like an exclusive men’s club. Snapping on a desk lamp he searched the paneled wall behind the massive desk, feeling for the barely discernible handle supposedly there. Finding it, he slid open the well hidden pocket door. Squatting before him, as expected, was a vintage one-ton, six-foot-tall, double-door Heidelberg, a hulking brute of a safe crafted from the finest pre-war German steel. Given unlimited time and a seven-foot wrecking bar, Danny could peel this safe, but he had a better plan. Grabbing the double handles he first determined that it was, in fact, locked. Then he dropped his satchel and set to work.

Removing a special high-speed drill, and extension cord, from his bag Danny plugged it in. Then he carefully taped a large paper template to the right hand door, adjusting the cutouts to fit over the dial and handle. With a white magic marker he meticulously marked the three spots indicated on the template, then removed the template and picked up the drill. Leaning into the gleaming safe he pressed the carbide steel, diamond-tipped drill bit against the first white spot and began drilling.

After ten tense, nerve-wracking minutes, Danny had drilled the three holes. From his bag he removed a slim, twelve-inch-long steel tool, notched near the end, and inserted it into the first hole. Holding his breath, straining his ears, he blindly fished around inside the door until he hooked the steel rod he was searching for. Pulling firmly, he felt the rod snap forward with a metallic click. Danny repeated the process at the other two holes, using a differently sized and notched tool for each one. Danny stopped and replaced his tools into the satchel, carefully accounting for each one. Rolling up the extension cord he idly noted a beautiful Monet hanging on a wall, a vibrant floral burst of blue flowers and placid water. He’d already seen a Van Gogh and a Cézanne, which even he, a mediocre student of art, recognized. Danny ignored the priceless paintings. Stepping before the safe he grabbed and yanked down the two heavy handles. A muffled clunk! Heavy with authority, echoed dully. Pulling both handles upward, a softer thunk! Resonated, and almost imperceptibly the doors cracked open. Bracing his feet Danny drew the handles toward him and the heavy steel doors slowly swung open as the safe reluctantly revealed its secrets to an audience of one.

* * * * *

Precisely at that moment Deputy Maceo Alvarez was easing his Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office squad car down a sandy trail on the mainland. On routine patrol, he was checking out remote back roads. Nearing the end of one particular trail he was preparing to turn around when his headlights reflected off a vehicle. Looking more closely, he saw a large SUV, almost invisible in the shadows, parked with its nose poked into some bushes. It was black, shiny and looked brand new. Suddenly cautious, aware of his isolation, Alvarez eased his car up behind the vehicle. It was a Yukon, he noted. Picking up his radio transmitter he called in his location and the Yukon’s license plate numbers, requesting a check, then filled out a field report listing the vehicle’s make, model and license tag number. Then, flashlight in hand, Alvarez stepped out of his car and looked around, playing the light across the shadowy vegetation. Feeling uneasy, he un-holstered his pistol and slowly approached the dark Yukon.

Shining his light throughout the vehicle he quickly determined that it was unoccupied. And, the doors were locked. This is strange, the deputy thought, looking around, again throwing his light over the weeds, probing the bushes. A new, forty-thousand-dollar vehicle doing sitting in the middle of nowhere, in the middle of the night. Stepping around front, splashing through puddles, he shined his light back inside. For the first time he saw the crudely written sign, scribbled on a ragged piece of cardboard, lying on the dashboard: Out of Gas. Will be back. By the sign was a scattering of fishing lures and two rolls of monofilament fishing line. In the rear he saw two fishing poles and a tackle box. Alvarez visibly relaxed, his tensed muscles unknotting. It’s nothing. His squawking radio interrupted his thinking and he returned to his squad car. Inside he listened as the dispatcher related that the Yukon was not reported stolen. It was registered to a Jackson Benson, from Miami. Benson had no record, no outstanding warrants. With a sigh of relief Alvarez completed his field report. He didn’t like sitting there, exposed in a lighted interior, and he was suddenly anxious to leave. An owl hooted somewhere close by and an involuntary chill ran up Alvarez’s spine. This place is creepy, he decided as he tossed his clipboard down. Giving one final look around the darkened clearing he turned his car around and returned to his beat, roaring off a little faster than necessary.

* * * * *

When the safe doors opened, Danny took a moment to digest the scene. His heart pounded with excitement, the familiar thrill that always accompanied such moments. A safe could be totally empty or full of riches—he’d encountered both—which was why it was like winning the lottery. Scanning the overflowing shelves, Danny saw that the old Heidelberg was a veritable cornucopia. With experienced swiftness, and a real sense of urgency, he began pulling items from the interior, working from top to bottom. With quick glances he had to make instantaneous decisions about what to toss and what to keep. Toss or keep. Toss or keep. Working rapidly he tossed aside obviously useless items, stuffing everything else into his bag. With a satisfied grunt he found a bundle of zippered bank pouches, each one stuffed with green money. One by one they went into his satchel; he stopped counting at ten and stopped looking inside to check for money. Reams of paperwork were tossed aside. Toss or keep. Danny’s hands flew over the merchandise, his heart racing with excitement. This is a good score. Danny concentrated on suppressing his rising excitement, willing himself to remain calm and clearheaded, fighting the fear, that familiar temptation to split with a victory in hand before something went wrong. Toss or keep. Toss or keep.

On the second shelf Danny found a small, carved wood chest of drawers. Opening the first drawer he was stunned to see dozens of huge, loose diamonds glittering on the velvet lining. He immediately pulled the drawer out, prepared to dump it into the satchel. At the last moment, looking back and forth, he made a snap decision. Removing all of his tools from the bag, he decided to leave them behind. They were untraceable and he needed the room. Sliding the drawer back into the jewelry chest he stuffed the entire chest into the satchel. Back at the safe Danny’s hands flew like a shuttle. Toss or keep. A matte black Glock 9mm pistol and a sheaf of stock certificates joined the growing pile on the floor. Toss or keep.

On the third shelf Danny found a metal box. Pulling it toward him, surprised at its weight, he opened the lid. Gold! He dumped the jumble of gold ingots into the satchel. Another metal box sat on the shelf. It wasn’t as heavy, but it was locked. Danny dumped it into the bag. Toss or keep.
Finally, the entire floor of the safe was lined with large, leather-bound, photo album-like folders, arrayed like books on a shelf. Flipping one open Danny saw coins, each one bound in a thick, clear plastic page, each carefully identified. Eureka! Danny swiftly stuffed the folders into his satchel, anxiously wondering if they were going to fit, until he finally squeezed the last album in. Zipping up the bulging bag he shouldered it quickly, surprised at its weight. This was, he knew, a heavy-duty score, certainly the biggest in his life, and his thumping heart echoed in his ears. He snapped off the light and moved toward the door, looking about one last time. Suddenly his hand froze above the doorknob. There was something in the corner he had not noticed before. Peering curiously into the shadows he was startled to finally recognize it. On impulse he moved toward it, inexplicably feeling that it was something he had to do.

When Danny finally eased out into the hallway, raw silence greeted his ears. He trotted back down to the unused bedroom, counting doors as he went, the heavy bag banging against his hip. He slipped into the bedroom and strode directly out onto the balcony, closing the French doors behind him. Pausing to ensure that nobody was on the grounds below, he hung over the balcony and dropped the satchel onto the hedge. Climbing over, he hung down and dropped, rolling when he hit the ground. Shouldering the bag he jogged down the lawn, not even looking back. So close! Please don’t let anything go wrong now!

With his eyes locked onto the hibiscus stand hiding his boat, Danny abandoned all caution and broke into a full run for the last hundred feet, sliding into the bushes like a man stealing home plate. Dragging the dinghy down into the water he tumbled inside and started the engine, desperately trying to catch his breath. As he puttered away into the darkness, nosing through the foamy surf, Danny looked back at the brightly lit, slowly receding mansion, seemingly bobbing on the horizon in cadence with the waves, and felt a tremendous rush of raw exhilaration. Then, turning into the darkness, he steered the boat toward his new life, assuredly one thickly populated with great slices of good luck.

* * * * *

Ninety minutes later Danny trudged into the bedroom of his rented house, soaking wet and thoroughly exhausted. Normally this was the best time of any score, when he dumped his new treasures out and calculated his riches. It was intoxicating, like the score itself, unlike anything else—tasting the sharp piquant flavor of ultimate risk and boundless reward. But tonight Danny was dead tired. The return trip in the dinghy had been rough and he’d almost been swamped several times. Physically drained, mentally numb, Danny wearily decided to wait until morning. Tomorrow would be a big day, for he had to pack up and return to his home in Miami. Danny stripped and stepped into the shower, letting the steaming water melt away his fatigue. Toweling off he gave one final glance at the hulking satchel sitting on the floor, bulging with promises of dreams yet to be fulfilled. That bag, he mused, represented his future, containing enough money to allow him to go straight. It was an old story among thieves, but tonight Danny had achieved that goal. Turning off the lights he climbed into bed, sliding between the crisp, cool sheets. And there he lay, staring at the ceiling, savoring his success, his future now a buffet line of choices, spread before him in all directions like an evanescent constellation of exquisite possibilities, until sleep finally descended upon him like a benediction.

Bill Van Poyck

William Van Poyck  #034071
Florida State Prison
7819 NW 228th Street, 
Raiford, FL 32026-1160

If you enjoyed reading this chapter of Bill's book, you can purchase Quietus HERE
And you can read more from Bill at his blog HERE

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