Twisted Fates by Tony Bulmer—Are You Steve’s friend?
Misunderstandings are so easy to come by. I wrote this story after a chance encounter in Sherman Oaks, a wealthy little cross roads community In Los Angeles’ San Fernando Valley.
Some say that the Sherman Oaks road Junction where the 405 and 101 freeways meet is the most dangerous in the world; others would say it marks the demarcation point between North Hollywood and the more sedate neighborhoods of the West Valley. I say this is the epicentre of a world so fascinating it provides me with endless inspiration.
As with many of the tales in my new Twisted Fates collection of short stories this story is based on real characters, perhaps you will mark the moment where imagination takes flight or perhaps you will see a dangerous truth. If so we will speak of this next time we meet, at the Delano Hotel—South Beach, Miami.
Are You Steve’s Friend? By Tony Bulmer
Confidence—that is what it was about. Todd Danson was a walk-in man; a hot prowl operator of the highest order. For Todd, burglary was more than a profession—it was a compulsive thrill more addictive than any drug, more consuming than any love affair. Todd prided himself in the bold and innovative methods he had employed to advance the walk-in trade. His audacity was unparalleled; even the newspapers said so. One time he walked in to a house in Sherman Oaks and had a three-hour conversation with a daytime TV starlet. He took a tennis racquet with him, told her he was a friend of her husband. He said he was returning racquet, then yap-yap-yapped, improvising as he went, using facts he had gleaned from stolen mail and trade talk he’d seen in the Hollywood Reporter. The starlet lapped up the spiel. She showed him her legs and made goo-goo eyes. He could have screwed her right then and there if he’d wanted. Instead, he threw her the chat until he got bored, then on the way out he lifted her car keys from the kitchen. 45 minutes later her brand new Maserati was pulling into a chop-shop on Reseda Boulevard never to be heard from again. It was a sweet play, but he needed more. Todd could never rest on yesterday’s results; his lifestyle just wouldn’t allow it.
Todd’s problem was he craved the finer things in life—luxury cars, designer clothes, a swank apartment in West Hollywood—there was no end to the list of expenses that he had to contend with.
Some people would have said he had expensive tastes; but he just didn’t see it that way. He wanted nothing more than his due. The way he saw things, he was as good, if not better than any of the folks in the fat neighborhoods. Sure, they followed the rules; jumped through all the hoops that society dictated. But that didn’t make them better than him, didn’t mean that they deserved any more than he did. Todd had worked it all out. Every chump he met in these big-bucks neighborhoods was the same—every one of them worked an angle on the system—they were smart, they had it down. Every single one of them had leveraging their privileged upbringings so they could snatch an Ivy League wall certificate that said they were better than everyone else. But they weren’t better. They were just good at working the system from the inside. They thought they were so smart, with their doctoring and lawyering and big-business bullshit—they were institutionalized criminals nothing more, charging bank-heist prices for the kind of stuff regular folks got suckered into needing.
Todd wasn’t like regular folks. He had known that from the very moment he got kicked out of business school. He was a natural born entrepreneur, the kind of talent who couldn’t be contained with any kind of formalized corporate structure. He wasn’t bitter. Those prigs on the college-board had done him a favor. If he had played by their rules, he would be a small-cog-victim by now, bumping along inside the corporate machine. Working the outside gig, he got to be CEO every day of the week. Yes, he took the risks—but he reaped the rewards as well.
Trouble was, it was real hard to elbow your way back into a society once that had turned its back on you; Todd found that out good and quick. Those big bank bastards shot the credit right out from under you. And you couldn’t get no kind of start in life without financing—no house, no car, no lifestyle. It didn’t matter if you were good for the money. It didn’t matter if you could pay them back—those money people just straight out refused to cut you a break. What could a guy do under such circumstances? What choice was there, but to go rogue—raise your own financing through hard work and initiative?
Todd was a hard worker. He played the up-market neighborhoods. He liked Sherman Oaks in particular. He worked the upscale clientele, the big houses, nothing under three million, nothing over ten. You worked a ten plus gig, you were just asking for a bust. Big money made folks paranoid and security conscious. Sure, you could rip those places off if you wanted, but the big risks and extra planning cut margins. And if those tragic years at UCLA Anderson had taught him anything, it was that margins were all important.
A simple life, that’s what was all about; if you knew how to pitch your chat just right you could talk you mark out of pretty much anything—money, jewelry, designer-clothes, fine-art, even cars.
Todd liked stealing other stuff too of course—ID’s, social security numbers, anything he could use to layer on a post-heist confidence scam or identity fraud. Innovation was the key here. In the brave new world of online trading, those big, juicy money-rich companies expected to get ripped off—they made provision for it—writing off fraud as just another business expense.
Trouble was—there was just no kind of challenge in the new trend for web-based work. Todd preferred the satisfaction of the personal touch. He liked to park his late model Mercedes on the Boulevard, then work his way through the neighborhood. Sometimes he would dress in his preppy tennis clothes, other times he would wear a business suit. Today he was wearing khakis, and a white shirt, accessorized with a pale lemon golfing jumper wrapped over his shoulders. He moved down the street, his brown Tumi attaché case in hand, as though he was about to “do lunch” with some douche-bag studio-executive, and was rushing home, to pick up some papers he had forgotten.
As he walked the neighborhood, Todd engaged in a fake conversation on his cell phone, adding the illusion of a man who belonged. What he was looking for was an angle of entry, no matter how small. Todd was a master of exploitation, an open door, an unwary housemaid, or some legitimate tradesman making entry to a property—such small vulnerabilities, were all he needed to move in. Finding the mark was just the start—you had to move fast, follow through seamlessly—employ a level of craft so effortlessly plausible that the soft-touch-suckers would do anything you wanted and think it was their idea in the first place. Todd smiled to himself, thinking now about the time he walked in on the movers in Palos Verdes. That was a sweet deal. He threw them all hundred-dollar bonuses then reamed them out for failing to “make the drop off at his brothers place.” The movers were most helpful. They delivered quarter of a million dollars of antique furniture to a front address he had set up with the unwitting assistance of a Rolling Hills realtor, who thought she was really something. Sure, he’d had to lay out a few bucks to make the play—but that’s no biggie, when you are clearing 250 large for a mornings work. He smiled again and as he did, he saw the blonde.
Todd quickened his pace and raised his hand high—an enthusiastic greeting he called the taxicab hello. The blonde was standing in the doorway of a schmantzy Tuscan style house, her arms folded as she peered nervously down the street. Todd hurried up to her, “Here I am,” he said, a big smile spreading wide across his face.”
The blonde looked uncertain. She peered down the street then turned her attention back to Todd. “Are you Steve’s friend?” She asked, her voice tremulous.
Todd peered at her over the top of his sunglasses like this was the most ludicrous question he had ever heard and she was the most beautiful woman in the world for asking it. He smiled, gestured towards the door with his open hand and said, “Shall we?”
The woman frowned, but let him in anyway.
Todd shot her a smile. She had looked like she was in her twenties from a distance, but now he was closer, her makeup that said she was ten years older, minimum. But that hardly mattered. She had an over-ripe figure and the kind of go-faster legs that compensated for much. “So Steve huh? how about that guy?”
“Steve is an asshole. Everybody knows it.”
Todd held up a hand. “We don’t even need to have that conversation, if you know what I mean.”
The blonde nodded, her brow furrowing slightly. “You are not what I expected,” she said.
Todd gave her the smile again. “Steve’s been talking? He needs to watch that mouth of his.” Todd shot a quick glance over the lobby. The décor was expensive but austere—minimalist designer furniture and post impressionist paintings in museum style frames—they looked real—they looked expensive.
The blonde reached a pack of cigarettes off the hall table and helped herself to one. She popped a light under it and drew a sharp breath. She looked at Todd, her depthless brown eyes examining him.
Todd looked at his watch, “Steve told me to get here as quick as I could. He said it was urgent.”
The blonde breathed smoke out the corner of her mouth. She half laughed, half snorted. It was a nasty bitter little sound, filled with contempt. “It depends what you mean by urgent.”
Todd pursed his lips, nodded. “We should go through to the kitchen.”
The blonde looked surprised. “You don’t mess around do you? I thought you would at least want the money first?”
Todd closed his eyes, shook his head very slowly and said, “What kind of man do you think I am? There will be time for that later—I must ask you however—now that you mention it—
“I got the money. Every last dollar.” The blonde feigned pouty, like her mind was running inventory on some gargantuan stack of green—thinking all the time about all the stuff it would buy her. She took another pull on her cigarette. Her depthless eyes examining Todd. She had a vulnerable look that was real hot, but there was something else too, something lurking beneath.
Todd said, “The kitchen is this way right?”
She looked nervous, said, “Sure.” She paused. “Say—you have overalls or something—in that little case of yours?”
Todd had no idea what she was talking about. He ran with it anyway. “Overalls? I am a professional.”
She nodded quickly. “Of course you are. I just thought that—”
Todd pointed down the corridor. “This way.”
The blonde nodded; took another pull on her cigarette.
Walking through into the expansive white kitchen Todd quickly saw why overalls might be needed. There was a man lying prone on the floor. He was dead. He had a black lake of rapidly congealing blood surrounding his head and shoulders.
Todd put his attaché case on the kitchen counter. He placed his hands on his hips and said, “I am going to need your car keys.”
“My car keys? Don’t you have a van?”
Todd gave her a look. “Of course I have a van. But I am assuming you want this situation cleaning up in a plausible and timely manner, am I right?”
The blonde nodded. “You want the Range Rover or the Ferrari?”
Todd gave her a look, like it was the dumbest question he had ever heard. “Here’s what’s going to happen. You’re going to drive over to LAX and grab yourself a business class ticket to Miami. I want you to check into the Delano—It’s a five star place on South Beach—you will like it. There is a spa, beachfront bar, and a great little club right next door—”
The blonde looked doubtful. She opened her mouth to ask a question, but Todd jumped in before she could speak.
“You are going to love the place, trust me. I want you to stay there, and wait for my call.”
She looked flustered now, her hands flapping like she didn’t know what to do with them. “What about all this?” she said, her voice pitching higher, like she was heading for an emotional burnout.
Todd raised a finger to his lips. Don’t you worry about a thing; just leave me the house keys and I will have this place looking sparkly and fresh by the time you get back.”
The blonde’s bottom lip began to wobble. “You are amazing. I really don’t know how to thank you.” She held out her arms for a friendship hug. Her high heels tippity-tapping across the floor towards him. He held her, squeezed tight, resisted the overwhelming temptation to grab her ass. When she finally released him, there were tears in her eyes. “Thank you,” she whispered.
Todd gave her a tight, manful smile, “Go on, get out of here—go enjoy yourself, and don’t you worry about a thing.”
The blonde reached her voluminous purse off the kitchen table handed him the house keys. “I need to pack a few things—”
“There’s no time for that. Every second is critical in a situation like this. You understand me?”
She nodded, then reached in her purse again and pulled out a thick stack of cellophane wrapped bills, she placed them on the kitchen counter, then reached out a second identical stack of bills and placed it next to the first. “It’s all there,” she said.
Todd nodded, “I don’t doubt it. Now get going. I’ve got work to do, and times a wasting.”
Her depthless brown eyes melted into him. She blinked wetly, then bobbed forwards very quickly and kissed him on the cheek. “You will call me?”
“Sure I will. Now you get out of here.”
The blonde left quickly then. He watched her. She had a great ass. He felt almost sorry to see it go. But then, he looked at the money sitting on the kitchen counter, and he didn’t feel so bad. There had to be $100,000 at least. He listened, hearing the sound of her heels clickity-clack out to the parking garage. A powerful engine started, followed by the rattle of the garage shutters riding up. He smiled. She was taking the Range Rover. That meant the Ferrari was his. He would throw some of the paintings in the back, then scout the upstairs for what ever else he could find—Todd was excited now. This was going to be a big take, even bigger than the Palos Verdes job. He couldn’t wait to get started. He took in a deep breath of satisfaction, drawing in the deathly silence of the house. Everything he wanted was his—everything. Todd felt exhilarated. His mind spinning with all his plans, he figured he would take a quick leak before he got started. He looked for the downstairs bathroom; he opened doors and poked around. When he found it, the john was real swank, decked out like some gothic church, a big chandelier and icon pictures that looked like they had been stolen out of some art museum. Todd gave a snort of contempt. Gangsters—they tried to be classy, but they had no taste, they didn’t know what to do with their money. He gave the john a double flush and spritzed the air with mountain meadow freshener. Coming out of the bathroom now, Todd thought he heard something—what the hell? A knock sounded loudly against the front door. Todd froze, the sound of the flushing toilet reverberating as he stood there.
The door opened. A swarthy close-cropped head popped around the jamb, looked first one way, then the other. The man stepped quickly inside. He walked into the middle of the lobby with slow casual steps. He stopped, adjusted the waistband of his suit pants, exclaiming to no one in particular, “So where is she?”
Todd stepped forward. “You must be Steve’s friend.”
The man snorked a loogie. He stood there masticating for a moment. “Never you mind who I am jackass. Who, or what, are you? That is the question here.”
Two more men walked in through the front door. They were smartly dressed, like they had just walked out of one of those Persian nightclubs in Encino. Neither of them looked at Todd, they just walked right through into the house and started poking around—touching things.
The guy with the close-cropped hair came up close to Todd. He stood there, his lips twisting thoughtfully. “So you are the boyfriend?”
Todd gave the guy a surprised look.”
“You have got lipstick all over your cheek boyfriend. You going to tell me where she is at?” The guy pulled his gun then, brought it out real fast and jammed it into Todd’s ribs.
“The money is here Steve—” the voice came from the kitchen.
The guy with the close-cropped hair smiled then. “You don’t have to tell me where she’s at boyfriend. I will find her. I am real through when it comes to cleanups.”
Copyright 2014 Tony Bulmer