Sunday, May 15, 2011

On A Mission

After dickering when he got back home, Albert got the price up to 1200 ounces: three 400 oz. bars. “Plus transfer tax and your fee,” he added to Renfrew. “He can pay it; he’s still getting a bargain.”

Legally, the sale was a deemed disposition for the cash equivalent of the gold. “Just treat it as a cash sale and don’t go into any details. They won’t check up on you,” Renfrew assured him in a slightly nasal and somewhat charmless full-throated voice. “The gold can go into your stash up at Wakia.”

Having secured an oral agreement, Albert saw to the paperwork – enough to satisfy the real-estate agent that it was listed with. The total outlay for the anonymous buyer was only a little more than what Albert’s new place on Lake Wakia had cost him. Given that his old Freham home was on an eighty by one hundred and fifty foot lot, and sported 6,500 square feet worth of house excluding basement in an exclusive part of the city, the buyer was indeed getting a bargain. Albert could have insisted on the cash equivalent of fourteen hundred ounces of gold, which was close to what the agent urged him to hold out for.

Technically, he could have dismissed the agent and handled the details himself – but the agent was a near-friend and Albert had a reputation to uphold. Relying on legalities while acting brusquely didn’t gibe well with a man that could be trusted. So, he explained the sale and said he’d pay the commission on the ‘cash’ sale price out of pocket. “The trouble is, Mark, the buyer has a secrecy fetish. You’re going to be transferring the property to a private corporation” – one of several, intertwined in a serpentine fashion so as to deter snoops. All except the front corporation were offshore.

Switching back to Renfrew, he got asked if he wanted the twelve hundred ounces of gold as a credit. “I want to settle this as soon as possible. ‘Speed is our Service,’ and all.”

“So this is a precedent,” Albert replied, pensive.

“Yes, it is. The first deal I put through since I got into this time-waster.” Renfrew hit the right note; Albert chuckled in empathy.

But, the word ‘precedent’ anchored a plan in his mind. “Since we’re giving the system a trial run, how about disbursing the physical? I can have it shipped up tonight.”

Renfrew hesitated for a moment. “It’d be a pinch, but I can do it. It’s not as if I was doing much business right now.

“You’re right, I have to say. We might as well give the system a full shakedown now. When will you be arriving?”

“It won’t be me,” Albert answered. “I’m sending my son and another boy I’ve vetted.”

As a reward for listening to the lecture, Dylan pulled out a glass from the foot locker and filled it up after deftly removing the balloon from the half-full jug. Passing it to Neil, who was now looking excited, he got another glass and filled it up for himself.

The mead was well-made. Being of the plain variety, a slight inconsistency with respect to Dylan's juice-concentrate cover story, it tasted slightly sour but went down easily. Neil could hardly believe he had drunk down real alcohol. He soon felt his vision narrow a bit. The room felt lighter, and he found his eyes moving more slowly. He blinked as he started to blush.

Dylan, being more experienced, drank it down more matter-of-factly. “Lots left over for the party tonight. We might as well sit down and watch some Youtube before dinner. Party starts at 7:30.” Said party was a gathering of he three other school chums, all local. One of them was the son of Paul Mullen.

Booting up the system and setting up the video, Dylan got to the point of his tutorial. “For your homework, young man” – that got a chuckle out of Neil’s gut – “I’ll send you a link to a page that has the recipe in full. Everything’s there except the part about using your head so your folks don’t catch on.

“You can order sixty pounds of honey online, which’ll make for twenty four-litre jugs…”

The clips Dylan called up were local news from Freham, of a certain sort. “Things are pretty bad in the old town, aren’t they.” Neil, rolling with the satisfaction is his distant cousin’s voice, nodded.

“Yeah. What got us out was a home invasion in our old neighbourhood.” He didn’t notice that his voice had flattened.

“That’s what shotguns are for,” Dylan replied authoritatively. “Best defence against creeps.”

“Not down there; it’s the big city.” Surprised, Neil heard himself talk dismissively about the place where his old school chums were still at. Even the boarders had to live there.

“Right,” Dylan nodded sagely. “They really have it hard there.”

“I heard the robbers are bribing the security companies,” Neil added as alcoholic friendship settled into his belly. “Three people got toasted in my old neighbourhood. All of ‘em had security.”

Dylan smiled, pleased at what he heard. “Just goes to show you: you can’t bribe a shotgun.”

At that point, to the boys' surprise, Darren Finney burst in. “Better sober up, boys. Neil, your father wants to see both of you.”

Shocked at his distant uncle’s casualness, Neil jerked his head over to Dylan. “Right, Dad,” the elder boy replied, “we’ll stop in at detox on the way.”

Cracking a smile, Darren left the door open for the pair as he walked back to his home. He had gotten the message shortly after his day was done and the weekend started. That Neil had been startled, but he needed to get used to the way things worked in Wakia.

“One more thing,” Dylan added as they both got up. “When you hear a feeler like that, stonewall!

The blooming tutorial relationship hit its first snag when Dylan motioned Neil to the truck after opening the door and getting out the keys. A little older than his dad’s F-150, it was the spare vehicle that Dylan could pretty much use as he pleased. His mom didn’t do much driving, and she preferred the F-150.

Instead of going over to the passenger door, Neil went over to Dylan and whispered: “Don’t you think it’s a little unsafe?”

Dylan’s eyes went neutral when he heard those words. Yep, his cousin was still citified. “We’re on private property, and we’ll be there for most of the drive. Cop shows up maybe once a year.”

Aided by the alcohol, Neil adapted to what his elder cousin said even though he had meant something different. Compliantly, in part because of the alcohol in him, he went over to the passenger side and got in as Dylan was starting up the truck.

In a tone reminiscent of his father’s, Dylan sang out, “Don’t forget your seat belt!” Getting the hint, Neil left his off; so did Dylan. A slight informal rewiring meant that the truck could get rolling unimpeded.

When they reached the end of the driveway, Dylan stopped. To make the point clear, he said to Neil:

“Look at the left side of the road.” The other boy did.

“Now look at the right side of the road.” Again, Neil complied.

“Look left.” Now wondering what was up, Neil did so.

“And right again.” That got the younger boy asking what was up.

“I don’t see any cars either, kid. We must have missed the rush-hour traffic from Freham.”

“Okay,” Neil replied a little deflated. Evidently, the older boy thought he was a big-city worry wart. Maybe he was: they had only had one drink.

The hundred yards to Neil’s private driveway were driven without waver or incident. No-one saw them.

“Back on private property again,” Dylan concluded as he made the right turn into his neighbour’s driveway. “Clear sailing.” Getting his humour back, he informed Neil that he had driven into town with more in his belly than that single drink. “It’s not that hard if you know what you’re doing. Most people don’t.” With those words, the older boy ended the day’s lesson.

After pulling up into the wide circular driveway, made of dirt and bedrock laced with some gravel, Dylan stopped and the boys got out. Neil’s mom was preparing dinner, but his dad was waiting for them in the living room beyond the entrance foyer.

“How would you guys like to earn some gold.” Both boys heard the absence of a question mark at the end of Albert’s sentence.

He was sitting on a chair behind the head of the coffee table. Three 1/10 oz. gold coins were in front of him. Alongside the length of the table was a couch, which both boys sat on. Trying to sober up, Neil just got nervous. He committed to memory what Dylan had told him about stonewalling.

Sounding like he was back at his office, Albert continued. “I want you to drive down to Freham and meet a gentleman by the name of Harold Renfrew. Neil knows where he lives.”

Dylan’s eyes widened. He had seen lots of news from Freham, mostly bad news, but he had never been there.

“Once there, I want you to pick up three four hundred ounce gold bars and bring them here. Those bars are very valuable, and I expect you both to use your judgment when placing them in the truck. Thankfully, no-one’s going to believe that a couple of young men from Wakia could be carrying a cargo that valuable. I don’t mean to cast any aspersions, but you two in your” – this said to Dylan “father’s truck don’t look like you have anything to steal.

“The order for the gold was made through encrypted secure smart phone, so there’s no way anyone will know you have it.” His voice turning to reassuring, he continued: “There’s really nothing to worry about except getting back here safely. It’ll be just like hauling three packages.

“One of these gold coins is” – this to Neil - “going to Dylan’s father for use of his truck.” Now to both: “He gets it in advance. The other two coins, you two get – one each – once the delivery is done.”

One tenth of an ounce of gold, each. Two thousand dollars. Neil interpreted the figure as twice his weekly allowance. Dylan, more practical-minded, interpreted it as fifty gallons of gas.

“Now, you should be able to get there in about two and a half hours. The traffic’s going the other way at this time.

“If you want, you can try to make it home tonight but don’t try if you’re tired. If you need to stay at a hotel overnight and pick up the gold tomorrow morning, I’ll reimburse you. Just make sure that the journey is continuous once you’ve gotten the gold. Ask yourself” – this to Dylan – “if you can make it before you go to Mr. Renfrew’s place to pick it up. You have to stick to whatever decision you make, so I suggest you be prudent.”

Albert noticed his son looked and acted more serious than usual: Neil seemed a bit owlish. Not being privy to Dylan’s clubhouse yet, he didn’t even have any grounds for suspecting. What he saw convinced him that his boy wasn’t taking the task lightly, almost as if he were a young man.

Dylan responded first, scratching his jawbone. “Well, Uncle Albert, I think I can do it but we’ll have to get started a little after dinner. I’ve got friends coming over – it’s Friday, you see – and I have to tell them why the usual entertainment night isn’t going to have me for it.” Looking up at the older man, he concluded: “They’re old friends. I owe them that.”

Left unsaid was the fact that he needed the extra time to completely sober up. Driving on the main highway, and a city he hadn’t been to, was very far from a jaunt into the town he had grown up in and roads whose traffic patterns he knew.

Turning to Neil, he said “We’d better get coffee’d up, because we need to be alert.”

Back at his home for dinner, Dylan told his dad what Albert wanted him to do. He had also brought the gold coin.

Darren stared at it. “So this really is business for him.” The value of the coin wasn’t that far off from the price of a rental car and gas for the trip.

“Okay,” he decided. “Go fill up the truck from the tank” – a 250-gallon upright tank that Darren had installed thirteen years ago, two years after Hurricane Katrina when gas prices had started to go nuts – “and get going when you think the time is right.”

His earlier gibe hadn't entirely been fun and bluster. Darren suspected that his kid had gotten ahold of some alcohol for weekend blasts…because that’s what he himself had done when he had been a boy. Strangely, his adventures in teenage alcoholicism had turned into near-sobriety once he had hit the legal drinking age. It had set him a little away from Paul Mullen, but neither man minded. They were still born and raised in Wakia; they were still neighbours.

The boys had arrived on time; there was about a hour’s worth of sunlight left. Safely in the clubhouse, Evan Mullen – Paul’s eldest son – greeted Dylan jovially. He was unsuccessfully trying to grow a moustache like his dad’s, who he resembled except for being chunkier.

“Mead man! Glad you’re here! Cripes, I got a load of school to wash away.”

“Wine man!” As per usual, Evan had brought a one-litre outdoor-style juice jug filled with home-made. Two other local boys were on the couch, pulling out their own supplies. They shared a small bottle of “jungle juice,” an informal mixture composed of what they could sneak out of their parents’ liquor cabinet. An ounce each from twelve different bottles added up to a pretty good blast.

“I wanted to ask you,” Dylan continued. He knew well how Evan got his hands on the wine kit, carboy and other supplies he needed to go into wine manufacturing. Mullen’s Marine ordered stuff by courier all the time. Ordering the equipment online had raised no eyebrows in the neighbourhood, particularly since Evan had specified that it be delivered to the business. Since he was responsible for opening the packages and storing the contents anyway, he could easily divert the wine equipment by noting the return address. Being careful, he had bought from private parties so no business identifiers could give his game away. The wine was made in a dry-land boathouse where boats were stored in the winter as a service, so the building went unused from May to October. When season changed to off-season, he moved the equipment into the repair shop. By that time, everyone including his dad was going on unemployment; no repairs were made in those months. He could easily justify his recurring interest in parts of the marina not used by saying he wanted to get the hang of running the business. Since he also frequented the parts that were used, including the tuck shop, he covered his tracks fairly well.

“Can you see your way to receiving a five-gallon bucket of honey? Addressed to the marina?”

Evan considered it. “Thing is, it’d have to be worth my while. Mead?”

Dylan nodded. “Neil and I, we’re going into production.” Once he got the details worked out, and deigned to secure Neil's consent.

Still considering, Evan allowed that he could do it for a bottle of mead.

“Half bottle,” Dylan countered. “But it’ll be good.”

Evan bobbed his head side by side as if to say he’d consider it. Subject put to rest, Dylan now gave his regrets.

“I have to go into the big town tonight, with Neil. His dad wants me to pick up a shipment for him.”

“Of what?” one of the jungle-juice boys asked. None of Dylan's guests seemed to realize that the "big town" meant Freham.

Seeing nothing wrong with telling the truth, Dylan replied “gold. Three bars.”

That got Evan’s eyebrows up, briefly. “Right. My dad told me he’s a gold smuggler. Didn’t know you’d be his courier.”

“I blend in. A Brinks truck’d be too conspicuous.”

Evan nodded, a little boozily. “Makes sense.”

“Anyways, I just wanted to let you guys know the place is yours ‘til you go or pass out.” Dylan wasn’t all kidding. “Just make sure to shut everything down when you’re gone.”

“One way or the other, my friend.” Those words from Evan were as good as a signed contract.

Leaving the door closed, Dylan went to say goodbye to his dad. It had been more than an hour and a half since he had that cup of mead; the effects were sure to have worn off. He stuffed some coffee in himself to make sure.

Darren told his son to hold it for a minute, and discussed what he had pulled up from drivers’ social media about the highway. “I’d watch it if I were you.”

Now especially sober, Dylan nodded – several times. What his dad had told him wasn’t good.

Now back at Albert’s, Dylan knocked at the door instead of going in. Since this was business, it seemed fitting to do so.

Albert answered the door; he seemed to understand why the boy knocked. “So you’re ready to go.” Seeing the boy nod, alertly, he called for Neil.

Like his cousin, Neil had been drinking coffee too. Not having drank before, he still felt the effects a little. His dad, he was sure, didn’t suspect.

“You ready?” Dylan asked. Neil just nodded, still acting a little alcohol-owlish.

“Okay,” he said assuredly. The two walked over to the truck and got in; this time, both boys put their seat belts on. It wasn’t just because of the cops, either.

“Should be a nice, safe drive, Neil old boy,” Dylan boomed as he put the truck in gear. He didn’t tell his partner anything about what his dad had told him. Nor did he breathe a word about what was in the bed of the truck, covered by some coils of electrical wire and two toolboxes he had put in there for show and concealment.

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