Bo Strickland took his eyes off the road long enough to check the dashboard clock: 2:05.
“Good,” he said, rotating his head to loosen the knot in his neck.
“Good, what?” came the woman’s voice from the passenger seat. “What’s good?”
“What’s good about it? It’s just the time.”
“Two more hours we’ll be there.”
“God, two more?” It was the whine of an adolescent, though in this case that of a twenty-year-old.
“Well, how long did you suppose it was going to take from Cairo, RaeJean?”
“How am I supposed to know? I ain’t no map reader.”
“Didn’t ace geography class?” His remark was met by two flicks of a lighter. A quick flame followed by the orange flare at the tip of a cigarette. “Let me ask you a question, RaeJean, do you know what state we’re in?”
“Don’t be a dick, Bo,” she replied, exhaling, cracking the window enough for the smoke to be sucked out into the summer night. “Just because you went to junior college for a couple of semesters, you think you’re a fucking genius.” She curled her bare legs on the seat and smoked in silence until she finished her cigarette. “When are we supposed to meet up with Tommy, anyway?”
“That’s enough time?”
“Half-an-hour before the armored car arrives. Get there too early and it attracts attention.” RaeJean uncoiled her legs and sat up. She began drumming the fingers of her left hand on the center console. Bo threw her a sidelong glance.
“I’m bored,” she drawled. “Bored bored, borrrrred.”
“Well, why don’t you take a nap?”
“Not sleepy. Borrrrred.”
“Yeah, borrrrred. I didn’t miss it the first time, RaeJean. If you don’t want to sleep, turn on the radio.”
“There ain’t nothin’ on the radio I want to listen to. Shitkicker music or some goddamned preacher. I should’ve brought my Mötley Crüe cd’s.”
“Well, I don’t know what to tell you.” RaeJean resumed the staccato beat with her fingernails as they rode along for another mile or two.
“You want a blowjob?”
“Don’t make like you didn’t hear me.” Her voice had a coquettish tone.
“Let me get this straight,” he marveled, “I’m supposed to let my best friend’s girl give me head?”
“What about it?”
“Well, how the fuck stupid of me to think that should mean something.”
“What are you, some kind of prude? You need to grow up.”
“You don’t suppose Tommy just might take a slightly dim view?”
“Why would he? He knows I ain’t goin’ nowhere,” she said with genuine surprise. “Wouldn't matter to him any more than what happened back at that gas station.”
“What are you talking about?”
“That place where you got gas.”
“I know what a gas station is, RaeJean.”
“Okay, well, I went inside to use the bathroom, and I got hungry for a candy bar, but I didn’t have any money on me and there was this kid behind the counter. I guess he was probably seventeen, so I made him an offer and . . .”
“Hold on. Are you telling me you gave the kid a blowjob?”
“No,” RaeJean answered matter-of-factly, “I screwed him. In the bathroom. It didn’t take long, and there wasn’t nobody else there except you pumpin’ gas.”
“So you fucked this kid --?”
“Yeah, well –”
“-- for a candy bar? You little whore.”
“Come on, Bo, it was a Payday.” She paused for a beat. “I guess this means you’re turnin’ me down.”
“Christ, RaeJean, just let me drive.”
He draped his hand over the steering wheel and eased back in the seat, shaking his head. The white lines of the highway rushed on monotonously in the pools cast by the headlights – ten-thirty, ten-thirty, ten-thirty. He let himself be mesmerized by the rhythm, the endless cornfields flanking the two-lane, the full August moon that hung to the west. He began turning the plan over in his mind one more time.
Their destination was Riverton, a small town in north-central Illinois of no consequence save for a branch of Midwest Fifth Bank. A few weeks before he had been tipped by a friend who worked there as a security guard.
“Easy pickin’s,” Ron Weller had said. “Every Thursday morning a Brink’s truck rolls up real early. A driver and a guard. They use their code to get into the building, load up and they’re gone within five, ten minutes tops. The spot where they park is around back. Can’t see it from the street. Minimum quarter-million in that truck. Easy pickin’s, man.”
Now Bo Strickland had no history of lawbreaking. He had never entertained any criminal ventures, certainly none that rose to the level of the felonious, and he should have been smarter than to think he could pull off robbing an armored car; but in weighing the lure of a quarter-million-dollar score, maybe more, his brief encounter with higher education served him not at all. Instead, it was all ego. Bo was the kind of person who was never less than certain that he had all the angles figured, that he was one up on the rest of the world.
So he had abandoned the classroom five years before, opting to make some money by hiring on with Compton Enterprises, a big construction company in Cairo that worked around southern Illinois and over into Indiana, Kentucky and the Missouri Bootheel.
That’s where he met Tommy Brendan.
Soon enough they hit it off. Bo was a couple of years older, and Tommy latched onto him like a big brother.
Now Tommy Brendan was very nearly a caricature of a construction worker – brawny at six-three, with Paul Newman eyes and a mop of sandy hair, tight jeans and tighter tee shirts. His disposition was preternaturally sunny, his mind untroubled by thoughts of any depth. He worked hard, and on weekends favored long shifts at a local watering hole or, especially, at Viper’s, a raw gentlemen’s club on the outskirts of Paducah.
That’s where he met RaeJean Kunkel.
The attraction was immediate and not hard to fathom – she was a leggy blonde package who worked the pole with salacious aplomb while he showered the stage with tens and twenties. In no time at all, they were at each other with a vengeance, first in a ladies’ room stall at the club and then on virtually every accommodating surface in her apartment. The romance flourished, so that when Bo broached his bank plan, Tommy wanted her brought in. Despite his reservations, Bo had gone along. Neither Tommy nor RaeJean was Mensa material; but he figured he would be able to keep her out of the way while trusting that Tommy had just enough smarts to execute his role -- drive to Tipton and wait. Once they hooked up and got their hands on the money, they’d ditch the ride Bo had hot-wired earlier that night at a used car lot and slip away in Tommy’s car. Later, they would divide up the spoils.
Now in his instructions, Bo was at pains to impress on Tommy that for the enterprise to succeed, it was a necessity to exercise special care to stay below the authorities’ radar, and that meant keeping his lead foot under control.
For his part, Bo did what he could to avoid a ‘chickenshit mistake’ with the stolen Camaro – swapping out the plates and making sure there were no burned-out tail lights or a dangling tailpipe to draw the attention of the state police. And he stayed off the interstate. Illinois 127, two lanes, due north. Fifty-five. Steady as she rolls, he said to himself as the miles spooled past.
Mercifully, RaeJean had dozed off and awakened a few miles from Riverton. She yawned, stretched, rolled down the window and leaned her head into the rush of the cool night air. After a minute, she rolled the window up and let her head rest against the glass.
“What is it, RaeJean?” he answered, already annoyed.
“Sometimes, like tonight, I look up into the sky at all them stars out there and imagine each one is a soul, you know, maybe of a lost little child, and it makes me happy because I think they’re in Heaven. Do you ever think about things like that, Bo?”
Off the highway, it was a short jog into town. His friend’s directions were clear, and soon enough, Bo spotted the bank, drove half-a-block past and pulled into the parking lot of a small appliance repair shop, easing the Camaro into a spot in the back, obscured by shadows. The clock on the dash read 4:07.
“Where is he? Where’s Tommy?” RaeJean asked.
“Out of sight. Down the block. Soon as we see the Brink’s truck, we move in. He drives into position. We get a jump on the guards, tie them up, load the money into Tommy’s car and we get the hell out of Dodge.”
“Well, I’m worried.”
“How do you know this is gonna work?”
“Stop fretting for a goddamned minute, will you, RaeJean? I figured it all out. It’s going to work. There’s a pay phone at the entrance to the parking lot. Got the number from Ron. I gave it to Tommy and told him to call if there were any hitches on the way. I’m going to take a little stroll up there now, okay? You wait here.”
When he reached the phone, he stepped to the side, away from the cold light thrown down by a flickering sodium street lamp. The electric sign on a kiosk in front of the bank alternated displaying the temperature – 72 degrees – and the time -- 4:16. There really was little worry about attracting notice. At that hour, the only traffic was a lone delivery truck that crossed the nearby intersection. Five more minutes passed.
Then the phone rang.
It sounded abnormally loud in the pre-dawn quiet, and Bo grabbed the receiver quickly.
“Yeah, it’s me.”
“What’s up? You in trouble?”
“I was going to ask you the same thing. Where are you, man, it’s almost 4:30.”
“What do you mean ‘where am I?’ I’m across the street from the bank.”
“Impossible, dude. I’m across the street from the bank, and I’m sure as hell not with you.”
“What bank, Tommy?”
“Midwest Fifth. That’s the bank, right?”
“Yeah, of course, that’s the bank.” Bo closed his eyes for a moment. “Tommy . . . what town are you in?”
“Riverton. It says so right on the bank sign.” Now, Bo began to entertain the unthinkable.
“Tommy . . . do you know what state you’re in?”
“Well, that’s a pretty fucking stupid question, Bo, what state I’m in. I’m in Indiana – Riverton, Indiana.”
“Oh, Jesus Christ,” Bo exploded. “You fucking dim bulb!”
“Now wait a sec, man -- hold on.” Tommy’s words poured out in a torrent. “You said we’d meet up for the job in Riverton, right? Okay? So, okay, I head out and stop for gas about an hour out of Cairo, okay? Okay, so I ask the counter guy ‘what’s the fastest way to Riverton?’ And he says, ‘well that’s my hometown, so here’s the best way to get there’, okay? So, okay, I follow his directions – to the letter, just so you know -- and so I’m here. In Riverton.”
“You’re supposed to be in Riverton, Illinois!” Silence on the other end of the line.
“Are you fucking shitting me, man?” Before Bo could respond, he heard the rumble of an engine, turned and watched the Brink’s truck roll around the corner and up to the bank driveway entrance. Four-thirty. Right on time.
“I can’t fucking believe this,” he muttered.
“What? What did you say, Bo?”
“I said I can’t fucking believe this! You had one job, Tommy, one fucking job – get in your car and drive. That’s it.”
“Well, I . . . I don’t know what to say, man . . .”
“Don’t say a goddamned thing, Tommy. Not a goddamned thing.”
“So I guess the plan is off, then?”
“I’m going to let you struggle to figure that one out for yourself.”
“So what do you want me to do?”
“How about getting into your car and driving off the nearest fucking bridge?”
“C’mon, man . . .”
“Home, Tommy. Just head back home.” Bo dropped the receiver back onto its cradle. He felt bone-weary as he walked back to the car and climbed in behind the wheel. RaeJean sat up.
“What happened? Where’s Tommy?” Bo turned and looked at her for a moment before the laughter erupted. It spasmed up from his belly, contorting his face, forcing him to bend double. “Bo? What the hell is wrong with you? Is Tommy all right? Why isn’t he here?” Bo continued laughing in heaving sobs.
“I’ll tell you why, RaeJean,” he replied, sputtering as he regained control over himself, “because your dick-for-brains boyfriend went to the wrong state, that’s why.” This seemed beyond her capacity to grasp.
“Well . . . what state did he go to?”
“Does it matter a good goddamn?” he answered, turning the ignition key and kicking the engine to life. He pulled the car slowly out onto the street, pointing it in the direction they’d come.
“So what are we going to do now?”
“What we’re going to do now, RaeJean, is we’re going to drive back to Cairo.”
“All that way, again?”
“All that way.”
“I’m already bored.” Bo’s patience was tissue-thin.
“Well, why don’t you count all those little souls up in Heaven? Or, better yet, just go to sleep, RaeJean. For fuck’s sake, go back to sleep.”
“Well, if I do, you be sure to wake me up when we get to that gas station again, okay? I just might want to get me another Payday.”