Saturday, May 18, 2013

Quietus - Chapter Three

ADMIN NOTE One of our regular writers Bill Van Poyck has had a death warrant signed with a scheduled execution date of 12 June 2013. Many avenues are being worked on and his attorneys are filing briefs for a stay of execution.  We are not giving up hope that Bill's sentence can be commuted to a life sentence where he could be released for time served (26 years), getting him off death row. Please sign the petition on Bill's website HERE and spread the word. Thank You

By William Van Poyck

The following morning Danny watched the sun rise starkly against a turquoise sky, a molten disc of lurid orange inflaming the eastern horizon. Foregoing his routine morning jog he quickly packed. Then he carefully wiped down the house, a modest, secluded residence he’d rented several months earlier when the daily eighty-mile commute up from Miami finally proved too burdensome. An hour later he called the real estate agent and told her he was returning to California. She could keep his deposit; he’d leave the keys in the flowerpot on the porch.

Ten minutes later he was cruising south on I-95, enjoying the balmy, sea-scented air blowing in through the Yukon’s open windows, ignoring the heavy traffic coursing along the Interstate. One by one Danny flashed through the unbroken conga line of communities stretching down to Miami. Lake Worth. Boca Raton. Deerfield Beach. Pompano Beach. Ft. Lauderdale. Hollywood. Hallandale. Bal Harbor. Each, for Danny, prompted scrapbook memories, and more than a few involved burglaries.

Before noon Danny pulled into the garage of his comfortable Coconut Grove house, elated with anticipation. He disarmed the alarm system, went inside and dropped the nylon satchel in the middle of his living room. After carrying his suitcases to his upstairs bedroom he thoroughly patrolled the house, checking all windows, doors and locks. Satisfied, he padded into the kitchen, grabbed a cold bottle of beer and returned to the living room. This is it, he mused, eyeing the black bag appreciatively. This was the score that would enable him to go straight, and finally marry Miriam. Since leaving prison six years earlier he’d been living the high life with resolute abandon, making good money but spending it recklessly, seemingly embarked on a ceaseless quest to atone for the prosaic severity of daily prison life, to quickly make up for the lost years. Lately he was pressing his luck, and his characteristic sense of caution had slipped a cog. Increasingly, in the cave of his heart, he’d felt an almost tangible dread, a persistent uneasiness, like an unsmiling presence knocking at the back door of his mind, gripping his spirit in a tightening bear hug of imminent calamity. One day, he knew, his number would come up, putting him on the wrong side of a yellow ribbon of crime scene tape. And it was then, when he began to hesitate, tasting the dregs of doubt and fear, that his better half finally set the brake. It was time to get out, now, before ending up like Sonny Corleone at the toll booth.

Now, sitting down cross-legged, Danny unzipped the satchel and dumped the contents on the carpet. He began with the bank pouches, zipping them open one by one, removing thick bundles of currency from each. Every pouch contained a slip of paper with names, numbers and notations scribbled on them, mostly inscrutable because everything was in German. When he was done Danny stared at the sixteen stout bundles lined up in ranks. Damn. Armed with a pen and legal pad he carefully counted each stack twice, separating the bills by denominations. Hundreds, fifties, twenties. Nothing smaller than a twenty, and a lot of hundreds. Adding up the columns one last time he underlined the final figure twice. Danny stood up and stretched his back and legs, then looked at the legal pad with a smile of satisfaction: $278,680. Yes!

This was more cash money than he’d ever scored, more than he’d ever possessed at one time. Danny’s typical job netted him between ten and forty grand cash, after he fenced the merchandise, with fifty grand being cause for real celebration. Danny’s primary target was normally jewelry, but the jewelry industry maintains a colossal markup—up to three hundred percent, or more, between wholesale and retail. Neither a thief nor a legitimate citizen can get anything near retail for his merchandise. That five thousand dollar engagement ring Joe Blow buys for his fiancée will get him perhaps eighteen hundred when the romance goes south. Danny had often stolen a quarter million dollars worth of jewelry, or more, only to net forty grand or so. A rule of thumb was twenty percent of retail. Danny’s biggest score was just the year before, when he’d hit a sumptuous seaside estate on Rhode Island’s famous Millionaires’ Row. After coming away with almost a million dollars worth of stones he netted $160,000. It was that job which bought him his Coconut Grove bungalow, a trim little two-story art deco gem on a quiet, secluded street off of Tiger tail Avenue. Now, he had over a quarter million in cash and he hadn’t even touched the gems or coins.

Retrieving another beer from the kitchen Danny slid a CD into his stereo. With Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5 wafting in the background Danny sat back down and began rummaging through the pile. Impulsively picking up one of the small ingots he examined it curiously. Though clearly gold, the ingots were devoid of the customary markings denoting weight and purity. Moreover, they were crude and irregularly formed, as though amateurishly cast in handmade molds. Each roughly identical ingot was approximately six inches long, three inches wide and two inches high, and weighed, Danny estimated as he hefted one, about five pounds. There were fourteen of them, but not knowing their purity he couldn’t estimate their value. His fence paid him seventy-five percent of whatever that day’s gold price was, a price based on pure, twenty-four karat. Danny typically produced fourteen or eighteen karat. Estimating that he had about seventy pounds of gold, he calculated that, if pure, that was $5,952 per pound, at that day’s price of $372 an ounce. Seventy pounds would be $416,640, and his seventy-five percent would be $312,480. Damn! If it was only fourteen karat, that figure would be cut almost in half. Still. . . .

Danny trotted up to his bedroom, returning with a loupe and a jeweler’s scale. Opening the curtains to draw in the sunlight, he sat down and pulled the small chest of drawers to him. Closer inspection revealed the chest itself to be a work of art, crafted of some strange, exotic, almost translucent wood, a glassy smooth, pearlescent cinnamon color, devoid of any grain. Danny curiously rapped a knuckle against the oddly lustrous material. Much of the box was intricately carved with beautiful designs and symbols. One by one Danny slid each shallow drawer out of the chest, six drawers in all, and laid them on the carpet. For a long moment he could only stare, dumbfounded at what he saw, struggling mightily to comprehend it all, unable to decide where to start.

Finally, he simply began with the first drawer. Sliding it closer, Danny counted thirty-one enormous unset diamonds sparkling against the velvet lining. Selecting the largest, he carefully inspected it through the loupe. It was an absolutely flawless, pear-cut yellow diamond, stunning in its quality and size. Danny whistled appreciatively when he set it on his jeweler’s scale: Sixty-two carats. Never before had Danny held such a magnificent stone. Holding it up to the sunlight, he gripped it lightly between his fingertips, turning it left and right, raptly staring into its sparkling interior as if consulting a crystal ball.

Reluctantly setting the diamond down, Danny picked up the next largest stone, a brilliantly white marquise-cut that weighed in at forty-eight carats. Like the first stone it was virtually flawless. Also, like the first stone, the diamond’s particular cut and style, the angles and placement of its facets, were decidedly old-fashioned, for lack of a better term. These particular cuts and shapes were no longer used in the industry, dating these stones at least back to the nineteenth century.

Reaching for the next-largest diamond Danny suddenly felt overwhelmed by the scope of the task. Impulsively he selected the smallest stone, a beautiful white, or clear, round-cut that weighed fifteen carats. It was flawless. So, he reflected, there were thirty-one virtually flawless diamonds in this one drawer alone, ranging from sixty-two to fifteen carats. Every conceivable cut, color and style was represented here, as if someone had picked out the absolute best from a much larger sample. This was, he knew, a very deliberately selected collection. Picking up the largest stone he hefted it, awed by its value, trying to estimate its worth. It was impossible. Diamonds of this size and quality were in a class of their own, and any value he assigned to them would be arbitrary. At a minimum, he knew, this single yellow rock could retail for a million.

Deciding, for now, to just take a rough inventory, Danny moved to the second drawer, where he counted sixty-six loose diamonds. These were much smaller, ranging from two carats up to ten, and the majority were of the more common brilliant, or round, cut. Again he noted the old-fashioned style. These stones ran the gamut in color, from dazzling clear, to yellow, to amber, to blue, and each was flawless. The third drawer held eight diamond rings, two diamond necklaces and one diamond-encrusted bracelet. Each piece was spectacular in its own way, all outrageously valuable. These, he noted, examining each one, were definitely old. The style, the settings, all spoke of another era. Jewelry of this caliber could only belong to someone fabulously wealthy, perhaps even to royalty. Inside one ring he saw an inscription in a language he didn’t recognize. The date was 1884.

The fourth drawer contained sixty-two unset rubies. Unsurprisingly, they were of the highest quality. The largest weighed sixty carats, an incredibly valuable stone, and the true worth of which he could only guess. He was out of his league here, and he knew it. It occurred to Danny that there could only be a handful of men on earth who had ever possessed such a vast quantity of such exquisite quality jewels. What kind of man could, or would, amass such a collection? Picking up a twenty-carat cabochon-cut Burmese ruby, Danny paused to consider how beautiful it would look hanging around Miriam’s neck, nestled in the swell of her perfect, delicately veined alabaster breasts.

The fifth drawer held a vivid splash of green—seventy-five enormous emeralds. The largest was also the oddest, an eighty-eight-carat chartreuse rock with strange engravings covering one flat side, as inscrutable as Mayan stelae. He turned it in his hands, rubbing it with his thumb, puzzling over it like an ancient rune. Danny set the emerald down and stared at the drawer. Every stone was perfect. Any single one of them, Danny reflected, would have constituted a successful score for him. And here he was with an entire drawer full of them. Damn.

In the last drawer Danny counted 105 magnificent pearls, including thirty-one black ones. But the oddest were the twenty-two lustrous orange pearls. He had never heard of, much less seen, orange pearls, and he examined them curiously. Pearls were not his area of expertise, but he knew that all of them were natural and of the highest quality. Leaning back Danny suddenly realized that there were no sapphires at all. The guy must not care for sapphires, he mused. Danny suddenly smiled as he mentally pictured Von Scharnhorst. Damn, this will be one mad German!

Danny stood and stretched again, still feeling the exhaustion from last night’s adrenaline rush combined with today’s heightened exhilaration. Stepping back he stared down at the neatly arranged piles. Before him lay millions of dollars, and he hadn’t even touched the coin collection that had been his main goal. He was, he knew, on the cusp of the type of life-turning event he’d once only fantasized about in his maximum security prison cell. In the joint Danny had been surrounded by men he’d dubbed small thinkers, guys seemingly afraid of success, who gladly robbed a gas station or 7-11 store for a hundred bucks, but wilted and spewed out lame excuses when you suggested a real score—a bank, an armored car, a gold refinery—to net some real money. Prisons were full of these nickel-and-dime clowns, forever locked within the confines of their puny imaginations, unable to grasp that the penalty was the same—life imprisonment—no matter the size of the score. Danny had always dreamed big, and now he was staring at the tangible results, the power of thought manifested in concrete reality.

Sitting back down Danny picked up the first coin album, flipping through the plastic coated pages one by one, making a preliminary inventory. After splitting the albums up, separating the American coins from the foreign and historic ones, he saw that the majority of the albums contained the latter. Some coins were thousands of years old, from Greek, Roman and Byzantine, to Assyrian, Persian and Chinese. Many were medieval European and others were Russian. Unlike the American coins, these foreign ones fell outside Danny’s field of expertise. He’d have to leave their evaluation up to his fence, Felix, who was skilled in these matters.

Felix Nunez was that rare commodity in the criminal world, a man of honor, integrity and trustworthiness. Once a wealthy Cuban businessman and landowner, forced to flee when he found himself brushed by Castro’s heavy hand, he arrived in Miami with nothing but a facile mind and intrepid spirit, and he was soon enough wealthy again. A soft-spoken man of beautifully refined manners, given to eloquent ruminations, he nonetheless possessed a wistful lust for danger and intrigue that intersected with his love for all things beautiful, from art to antiques to jewels to rare coins. Danny and Felix had a long and profitable business relationship, going back to when Danny had befriended Felix’s son Delfin, in prison, where Delfin was doing time for cocaine trafficking. Now, Danny decided, he’d take a representative sample of everything to Felix and see what the old man had to say.

Danny’s eyes drifted to the locked metal strongbox. Retrieving a small pry bar from the garage he knelt down to examine the box. It appeared to be old, and for the first time he noticed the very faint script engraved along the gunmetal-blued steel lid. He turned the box at an angle so that the sunlight highlighted the words. They were German. A few words, like Obergrumpenfuhrer, he recognized as military titles. He saw a date, 1943. But it was only when he turned the box at a certain angle that the larger, fainter engraving, covering the entire box top, stood out in relief. It was a faded swastika. The skin across Danny’s back tautened involuntarily, rippling like a skittish thoroughbred as a shiver ran up his spine, and the fine hairs on the back of his neck stood up. Danny paused, wondering what such a box was doing in Von Scharnhorst’s safe. Danny’s research had told him that Von Scharnhorst had fled Germany before the war, residing in Switzerland. Reputedly he had been declared an enemy of the Third Reich.

When Danny popped open the lid he inhaled the musty, faintly pungent aroma of old leather, reminiscent of a well worn saddle. The large box was full and tightly packed, but the first thing he saw was a wide, black leather belt with an attached holster. The belt was stiff with age, permanently folded into an S-shape. A long row of cartridges ran around the belt, their brass casings turned green with age. Danny slipped a Luger pistol out of the holster. Turning it over he sniffed the barrel. It was old and had not been fired in a very long time. The clip was empty. On each side of the checkered wooden grips was a brass, button-like insert with two bold letters: SS. Setting the gun belt aside Danny reached into the box and removed a long, heavy, double-edged dagger. Decorating the end of the hilt was a fierce metal skull. Inlaid on both sides of the ivory handle were solid gold eagles, each grasping a swastika in its claws. Tilting the long blade into the sunlight Danny read the florid script engraved along its length: Meine Ehre heisst Treue. “My honor is loyalty,” Danny whispered, struggling to recall his high school German. Laying the knife on the carpet he felt a palpable sense of dread begin to percolate up from the depths of his spirit.

Next, Danny removed seven small jewelry box-like presentation cases. Each contained a war medal of some type, smelling musty in its velvet bed. He immediately recognized the black Iron Cross. In a separate, finely crafted wooden box with brass corner inlays lay a number of military insignias and ribbons, including two silver SS lapel pins in the form of lightning bolts.

Picking up a stiff leather pouch Danny unbuckled the cracked leather strap. A stack of old black and white photograph spilled out, fanning across the carpet like playing cards. Thumbing through them Danny saw one recurring figure, a tall man, lean as a ferret, with a ravenous smile and a shock of light hair. Barely discernible in some of the pictures was a long, thin scar creasing the man’s right cheek. In many of the photographs he wore a German army uniform. It took Danny a long moment to grasp that he was looking at a young Von Scharnhorst.

Setting aside the pouch Danny picked up a heavy silver picture frame. Gazing out at Danny in full color, his slate-blue eyes staring back with a ferocious glitter, was young Von Scharnhorst, resplendent in his black dress uniform, with its smart crimson piping on the jacket and cap and elaborate gold wire on the shoulder boards. Beside him, looking awkward and stiff, stood a shorter man with a rude, ungracious face—a face without happiness or anticipation of any—and bags under his eyes that looked like prunes. Instantly recognizing the caterpillar mustache, Danny involuntarily blurted out the name. “Adolf fucking Hitler!” It was like looking at a page from a history book, Danny thought. At the bottom of the photograph he saw something scrawled in German, followed by Hitler’s signature.

Digging in the box, Danny found an old Swiss passport with a stark photograph of Von Scharnhorst inside. Opening up a small black leather wallet-like folder he again found Von Scharnhorst’s face staring back, his expression haughty, autocratic in his German army uniform. A German eagle was embossed on the leather front, and inside, forming a background for the typed personal information, was a blood-red swastika. It was clearly some form of military identification, but the name below Von Scharnhorst’s photograph was decidedly different: Oskar Wessel.

From the bottom of the box Danny removed a bundle of old papers. Untying the shiny black ribbon binding the packet, he flipped through them, noting that they were all in German. Recognizing the letterhead of a well known Swiss bank he scanned the documents, zeroing in on the columns of figures. Under the name of Oskar Wessel the numbered account held over seventeen million U.S. dollars. The deposits had ceased in March 1945.

Next to the bundle lay a reel of very old film, wrapped in an oilskin. Danny made only a fainthearted inspection of the frames, holding them up to the light. The final item was a carefully folded cloth. The scent of old, stale cotton, faintly moldy, brushed his face as he unfolded it. Ragged and frayed, stained in places, Danny struggled to imagine all of the death and mayhem witnessed by the clearly combat-tested German battle flag spread out before him. The faded red swastika seemed to rise up and grip his throat, transporting him back to a time in history he’d only read about, or heard about in whispers. Danny felt something dark and evil, a palpable aura of malevolence, and that earlier, inchoate sense of dread returned, more definite now, more refined, like some nascent haunting specter struggling mightily to present itself to him, to make itself known, to be recognized.

Again the involuntary shiver ran up his spine. Suddenly his nose was mauled by an awful stench, overwhelmingly foul and putrid, immediately compelling visions of unspeakable death and corruption. Screwing up his face, Danny jerked his head back, looking around, eyes wide, doubting his own senses. What the hell. . . . Just as quickly the fug was gone, replaced by an exquisitely delicate flowery aroma, a supernal bouquet of rose, carnation and lavender scents—rich, delightful, bewitching—that filled the air and caressed his senses as if life itself had breathed on him. Danny sat stunned, as if bound and gagged, whiplashed by this fissure in reality. Something just happened, was all he could think, knowing that something had shifted within him. But what it meant remained inscrutable. Working swiftly, he placed everything back in the box, then closed it up and hid it away.

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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