EDITOR'S NOTE: Wimpole Street Gazette is proud to introduce our first serialized novel, the mysteryDESERT HOUSE by ROMEY KEYS. Every two weeks we will be adding a chapter, so stay tuned.
CHAPTER 9: THE CREW
Paul Waugh put the Cadillac into the garage. Mrs. Marshall’s house was just over Mulholland in Sherman Oaks. He’d left his car on the drive in front. On the way to his car, looking back at the house, Waugh saw Pearl watching him from an upstairs window. He waved to let her know he saw her.
“Making sure I leave,” he said to himself, “suspicious old bitch.” He let the Mustang roll to the gate and waited while the gate opened and then sat outside until the gate closed.
Heading over the hill his thoughts went to the surveillance car at the restaurant. It could have been there for someone else. There were certainly people at the restaurant deserving surveillance. Waugh knew a waiter there who was into follow-home robberies. But the car was probably for Pearl. So it was looking at them. Now the question was were they looking at Pearl or looking at him. He’d have to call Ross.
Waugh drove a customized Mustang. It was black and always washed, detailed, not a speck of dust. He gave it the same meticulous attention as he did everything he cared about. With nothing else to do, Waugh would walk around the Mustang, admiring his car, looking for a blemish to polish away. Then he would get in, start it up and listen to the car’s power. It was a thing he’d done all his life. This was the best car he had owned that hadn’t been stolen.
Paul Waugh had grown up in a place where mechanical skills ruled. Where cars were part of a man’s purpose as much as work. From the time you could stand you were learning how to be a man, listening to older men talk about cars and watching them work on cars until the day you could join them. A car and your ability to take care of it and drive it with a reckless cool marked your maturity. In their solitary youth, cars were more important than women. Women were a moment, cars were a life-long passion.
And he would still be there if he hadn’t developed an inner rot. He was an outlaw. The only thing Waugh loved more than a car and a roll of hundreds was spending them. It was money and cars that set him on the road to California, that and the insufficiently thought out use of a .357 magnum. He wondered if his people there still remembered him.
Waugh came down Beverly Glen fast. He liked cars that let people know you were coming, liked making people stop what they were doing in their expensive houses and wonder who was driving like that and worry. Taking the long incline down from Mulholland, he braked hard at the bottom and then slalomed through the rest of the canyon riding the double yellow. Turning onto Sunset he kicked it up to 80. He didn’t play the radio. He wanted to hear his car.
He worked his way west into Santa Monica, finally stopping at a sports bar on Wilshire. Inside was chaotic and loud. The UCLA game was on most of the screens and the bar was packed with students and the twenty-something crowd from the neighborhood. He found his group in back by the pool table. They were watching a wicked-looking brunette run the table. Janine, a waitress he dated, brought over a Corona with a wedge of lime stuck in the neck.
“How you doing baby? Saw you come in. You guys okay?” The two men at the table nodded. She stayed for a few minutes, asking Paul where he’d been, ‘cause she hadn’t seen him that week. Then she moved on to take the pool players’ order.
The two men at the table were Michael Gonzalez, an ex-con who’d been out for two years after getting caught driving a stolen car, and Steve Wood, a minor player who took down banks and other small-time robberies when he wasn’t working as a bit player on a daytime show. They had been waiting for Waugh. With Waugh, a guy they could look to, they became a serious crew. He gave them the nerve to try riskier scores.
“UCLA leading?” asked Waugh.
“Up by seven. Michael has something,” said Steve.
“Does he? What you got, Michael?”
“There’s this couple with a big house in Encino. Not gated. Husband hasa jewelry store on Pico in Beverly Hills. I figure we go by tonight, watch him close follow him home. See what’s what.”
“Does he do a good business? What I’m saying is, is this a big job or spending change?”
“It sounds like it might be big, Paul,” Steve put in.
“I mean if it is big, we may want to take our time, do some planning first,” said Waugh. “Kids?”
“Good.” Kids were in and out, always on the web or their cells. Friends coming by, too much traffic to handle. Two people by themselves kept regular schedules. They’d go home, settle in and stay put.
Janine went by again, balancing her tray high up out of the crowd. Michael held up his glass and she nodded.
“I’m trying to figure out where the money is, at home or in the shop,” said Waugh.
Paul was thinking he’d rather do the house. Beverly Hills cops weren’t as buried by 911 calls as the LAPD. Encino sounded safer. Scope the place out. Get in and maybe be waiting when the guy comes home. “Sounds like something,” he said. “We’ll have another drink. See how the game comes out first. Then cruise by and watch him close up. Follow him home see how things look. Good work Michael.”
Michael smiled, he had hooked up with these guys three months earlier and they’d just done a few quick jobs. Now it was beginning to take on the feel of a real crew, not just a bunch of guys doing stuff in the off-hours for laughs and small money. Like the crews Michael had heard about in County. And if it did work out, he’d be in as an equal, not a go-fer.
The game was over at 9:00. Paul made a date with Janine for later that night. Then they went out to Steve’s Honda. There were a couple of dog-eared scripts with “Steve” written on them in black marker in the front seat. Steve dropped down to Pico and headed east into Beverly Hills. The jewelry shop had closed. Inside, the staff were still putting things away and cleaning up. Michael handed Paul a pair of binoculars and he scanned the shop. He noticed that at least two of the employees carried guns, including the owner. It would probably be the house then. He didn’t want to get involved in a shootout in the store. Too many fast responders. The staff looked like they were all Iranians. The store looked prosperous. Lots of fancy stuff out front. There was a man cage on the front door. Another reason to do it in Encino. It would be hard to get into the shop. The staff might be sloppy and make a mistake, but they were all fairly young and looked sharp.
“Would they fight if we went in?”
“They look like it,” said Steve.
“I don’t know,” said Michael. “There’s a lot of people in there, maybe six or seven. They’ve got a good alarm system. I timed the police. We’d have to be fast.”
“I’m thinking the house in Encino,” said Waugh. “We’ll watch them close up. Figure out a schedule for this week. Take turns watching. We might want to get a safe man if we decide to do the shop. But how much cash is he going to have? I’m tired of these small jobs. Maybe we do this, find a couple of people and step up.”
The three men sat in the car watching the pawn shop close. They moved the car once to avoid attracting attention from the police. At 10:30, the owner, his wife, and an older woman got into a black Mercedes and headed down Pico, then cut over to Wilshire on their way to the 405. Paul followed.
ROMEY KEYS was born at home in Lanham, Maryland in 1947. The doctor delivered him between breaks to catch a boxing match on the radio. He has a Ph.D. in English Literature. He taught at UCLA for eight years. Now he's a Documentation Specialist for hire.