As he drove to the Diner he wondered how many other men his age, he was 48- years-old, still worked the second shift after eighteen years on the job. He had a first and a second mortgage on his house and he considered it a minor miracle that he made the monthly payment most of the time. The rest of his check went to cover his daughter’s dorm cost at college and for his son’s rent out in California where he was trying to make it as an actor. His wife worked as a store clerk at Wal-Mart, and covered the food and utilities.
Parking his squad car in the Diner’s lot, he walked around to the back of the car and pressed the trunk to make sure it was locked and then stepped inside the Diner.
“You two are here late,” the cop said to the waitress and the odd looking little man who was wiping down the empty tables.
“Double shift because we’re closed tomorrow and Sunday too. Things are bad all over I guess,” the waitress said. “What time is it?
The cop checked his watch. “Almost nine,” he said. “Can I still order?”
“Sure,” she said and made her way around the counter.
“I opened and I close,” the odd-looking little man said as he limped to the next table.
The cop shifted his gun belt to the back, repositioned himself on the counter stool, and then lowered his radio. He looked across the empty Diner, through the window and into the darkened parking lot and stared at the trunk of his squad car.
The waitress leaned in close to him, smiling, her pencil and note pad in hand.
“Hey,” she whispered, “are you here with us, or someplace else?”
He looked into her lovely deep blue eyes and said tiredly, “I don’t know. That’s what I’m thinking about.”
He forced a smile and said, “How about……I don’t care. Whatever the special is, I’ll have that.”
She returned his smile, scribbled meat loaf special on the notepad, and left for the kitchen. She’d been on the job long enough to know when to leave a customer alone.
After she was gone, he twirled around in his seat, looked at the squad car again, and narrowed his eyes on the trunk.
“Nobody’s gonna steal your police car,” the odd looking man yelled good naturedly from across the room. “You would have to be mental crazy to steal a police car, because if you steal from the police, the police will catch you.”
The words struck him and they stung. He spun back around and looked into the steel shelves that held dozens of clean water glasses and then went over the details again to make sure he hadn’t left any evidence that could lead back to him. He closed his eyes and brought himself back to the scene of the accident. It had been a slow night. At the bottom of the last shift, there had been a suicide. It was a young girl too. She left a note. She was in love with some married guy. But other than that, it was slow.
He found the accident scene on patrol. No one knew he was there. The heart attack probably came as he approached exit ramp 19 off route 8. First one sharp pain and then several more in quick succession, each worse than the one before. The deceased man swerved the car off the highway and onto the exit ramp, in search of a hospital maybe. As the pains increased, he pulled the car to the side of the road and put the car in park. The deceased man opened the car door, he was sure of that, because when he arrived on the scene the door was still open, the car lights were on and the engine was running. He figured that he had staggered five feet in front of the car when the big one hit. That one enormous pain in his chest that caused him to rip open his shirt before he fell dead. He was sure that happened because when he arrived on the scene he found five white plastic buttons on the ground and a few feet in front of that was the deceased, face down, his hands clutched to his chest. His eyes and mouth were still open, staring into the gravel.
He searched the dead man’s wallet and found his Massachusetts driver’s license that said the dead man was one Salvatore Mancuso of Wellesley, Massachusetts. He stared at the picture on the license. He knew the face, he knew the name, but he couldn’t remember how or why he knew them.
Then he remembered.
He walked back to his squad car and opened his briefcase and took out the day’s copy of the New Haven Register and found the article on the bottom of the front page, “Convicted Mob Boss Pokey Termerus Fleas Conviction.”
He held up the license next to the photo of Pokey Termerus in the paper and they matched. The dead man lying only a few feet from him was New England’s legendary Sally Pokey Termerus, boss over the Gegnees mob, murderer, drug dealer, and loan shark. You name it and Pokey Termerus held the title.
He had read the article earlier. A federal jury had found the 82-year-old Termerus guilty on 102 counts that included murder, racketeering, and tax evasion. They sentenced him to 120 years in prison but the judge on the case allowed Termerus bail to get his affairs in order, because of Termerus’ advanced years. He disappeared that same morning. That was less than a week ago.
He examined the dead man’s wallet and found three other driver licenses, all from Florida, all with Termerus’ photo, and all in different names with different addresses. The billfold held $360.00 in crisp new twenty-dollar bills.
He left the squad car, walked back to Termerus’ car, turned off the engine, and searched he glove compartment where he found a .45 pistol, and about a hundred rounds of ammunition. As he had expected, under the driver’s seat he found a loaded .32 and a switchblade.
He moved to the back seat where four gold leather suitcases were stuffed on the floor and back seat. He yanked the one closest to the door but found that it was too heavy to move with one hand, so he put his weight into it and pulled it out with two hands. Setting the case on the road he opened it and found it was jammed with money. Five, ten and twenty dollar bills, all in pristine, mint condition.
He slammed the case shut and stepped back from it, quickly, as though it could bite. He looked around. It was dark. It’s always dark early in a New England February. Every now and again, down on the highway, a car zoomed past. He looked up the one-way ramp and the closest thing next to him was a shopping plaza about a half mile up the road.
He looked around the scene and then quickly pulled the next suit case to the ground, opened it and found that case too was filled with crisp bills in different denominations. So were the two cases on the car floor and the four other suit cases in the trunk.
He did some quick math and figured that at a minimum, there was at least $4,000,000 in those bags. That cash was Pokey Termerus’ get-away stash and the only person on earth, the only living person on earth, who knew about the bags, was him.
He stood up from the bags, stepped back several feet, and stared hard at the eight cases brimming with cash. They were calling him on the radio. He had to make a decision and he had to make it now.
He held his breath, thought about it and then walked away from the cases and sat in his squad car. Lifting the radio to his face, he looked back at the money, placed the radio down on the seat, got out of the car and tossed seven of the suitcases into his trunk, leaving one behind to make things look the way they should.
He called it in and waited. The state police arrived just before the FBI who brought the local and national media with them. The agent in charge gave the Bureau credit for locating the dead hood. They displayed the .45 pistol, the .32, the switchblade, and the suitcase full of money. They impounded the gangster’s car and had his body brought to the morgue in New Haven. And that was it. It was all over within an hour and now here he was waiting for the meat loaf special to arrive.
He turned and looked at the car’s trunk again and thought to himself, “This is so wrong….this is wrong,” and the notion occurred to him that he could pay cash for their airline tickets to Switzerland. The banks there were safe and they didn’t ask any questions but the US Customs people would check their bags. No, that wouldn’t work. They would drive down to Mexico and wire transfer the money to Europe from Tijuana and after that, they’d live in one of those tiny countries that extradite people like him. They would leave tonight when he got home. He would finish the shift so he didn’t bring any attention to himself. He figured they could make it to Virginia by morning, then he’d call in sick for a couple of days and then……
His cell phone rang.
“Hello,” he answered.
“Chuckie,” the voice said. “Mark, down at the station. You know all that dough the fed’s found in Termerus’ car?”
“Yeah,” he said, “the suit case.”
“Yeah,” Mark said. “You know how much was in there? In the suitcase? Take a guess. You’ll never guess.”
He was about to answer when Mark cut him off.
“One point two million Chuckie, you believe that? One point two million dollars in one suitcase. You know what else?”
“No,” he answered, “what else?”
“It’s counterfeit, every dollar. That crazy old bastard was printing his own money, and not well either. The feds are saying he used some kind of cheap paper, not the expensive kind you’re supposed to use when you make counterfeit money, you know what I mean? It feels like paper, just regular paper, it doesn’t have that soft feel to it, you know? Chuckie, you there? Hello?”