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Best Laid Plans

A short story by Steve Murphy

By Steve MurphyPublished about a year ago 10 min read
1

Frank Jones was the man with the plan. Fly away. Help his kid, Frank Jr. out, too. A side benefit. It was dangerous. Murder always is.

Frank’s no killer. But desperate times call for desperate measures. Besides, who was gonna mourn the loss of Tony Cipriano? That was how Frank chose to see it. As many enemies as Tony C. had, Frank figured to be long gone before anybody connected the dots.

Morning loomed cloudy and gray. Typical for Puget Sound, for Tacoma. For once, Frank didn’t bitch when he looked out his window. Gray and gloomy, like Tony C.’s chances of seeing tomorrow.

After he’d shaved, dressed, and fed the cat, Frank drove across town to Jones Used Cars. The business he founded thirty years before.

He pulled the Impala on to the lot and parked behind the office. Walked around to the front door, took out his key ring and opened up for business. Fifteen minutes later a blue Mustang turned off 6th Avenue and pulled onto the lot.

“Hey Jill.”

“Hello Frank,” Jill Swanson returned the greeting as she parked the maroon convertible and climbed out.

“Looking good,” Frank said.

“Thanks Frank” Jill smiled, “You, too.” A polite little white lie. The stress showed in the deep lines and pallid color of his face.

“Yeah, well, kind of you to say so. Things haven’t exactly been comin’ up roses around here lately, Jill.”

“Sorry to hear it.”

“Come in and I’ll put the coffee on. We can talk.”

Frank stepped up onto the little porch of the Jones Used Cars’ office. No one else was in yet. Stan, Frank’s mechanic wasn’t due for another half-hour.

“Have a seat,” Frank indicated two blue plastic chairs in what served as the lot’s lobby.

“I was surprised to get your call,” Jill said, as Frank poured hot water into a plastic “Tacoma Rainiers” mug and added a scoop of Folger’s Crystals.

“How do you take it?”

“Just black, thanks.”

“Here you go.” He passed Jill the cup, then fixed one for himself.

“So, what I was wondering,” he said, casual like, “is if you might wanna come work?”

“Work? Here? What do I know about the car business?” she said, “And I’m self-employed, Frank.”

“Just for a few weeks,” Frank said, “Two months tops. And that don’t matter. Stan can help you out, he’s an old pro.”

“Stan?”

“My mechanic. He used to be in sales, too, but prefers to work on engines and all that.”

“What about you? What’s this about, Frank?” Jill fidgeted in the chair.

“Well,” Frank began, before being interrupted by the phone’s ring. “Let me get this.” He gave Jill a thin smile and lifted the receiver.

“Jones Used Cars, Frank speaking. What can I—” Cut short by the party on the other end of the line, Frank stood.

“Jesus.” Frank turned his back to Jill and paced in a small circle behind his desk. He listened impatiently for a half-minute, then spoke again.

“Okay, I’ve been wondering, and worried,” a quick glance at Jill, “you best get over here ASAP. Be careful.”

He hung up, then turned to Jill. “Business,” he tilted his head in a “what ya gonna do” manner, sighed and sat again in the desk chair.

“You need to be somewhere?” Jill asked, and knew the question made no sense.

“No. He’s coming here,” Frank answered, “Frankie, Junior.”

“Oh,” Jill’s voice perked up, “Gee, how long’s it been since I last saw Frankie? Must be fifteen years. We were on 19th and you guys were around the block. I stopped by. He was working, but I forget where?” Her voice trailed off.

“He’s forty now, you know,” stated flatly.

“Forty? Geez, how can that be?”

“Yeah, time sure flies, don’t it?” Frank stood and moved to the window.

“You want another cup?”

“I’m only halfway through this one,” Jill said.

“Like I was saying,” Frank turned back to Jill, “A month, maybe two. I’ve gotta be away and I need somebody I can trust. I thought of you. I know you could handle it.”

“You still haven’t told me what.”

“Yeah, just opening up. Checking with Stan as to what’s in the shop, what’s ready to go. Answer the phone, close up. Just banker’s hours, ten to four. During the week. Nine to six on Saturday. If nothing’s shaking, close early. Sunday’s we’re closed.”

Frank kept it close to the vest. Jill sensed his reluctance.

“Where you going? Can’t Frankie take over for you?” Jill asked. “What’s he up to?”

“No. He’s, uh, probably gonna come along.”

“I don’t know,” Jill was clearly uncomfortable with Frank’s sketchy proposition.

“The pay’s good. Five hundred a week. I know you’ve got your tax business but this being June and all, I was hoping you could do both. If you need, use the office for your CPA work. Oh, I’ll need you to do the banking. And pay Stan. And Jackson, the lot boy. I’ll leave signed checks for that. And any expenses.”

“I don’t know, Frank. I’m not a –”

Jill was interrupted by the sound of tires on gravel and the roar of exhaust pipes. A black Chevelle came up the driveway and slid to a stop alongside Jill’s convertible.

“Frankie,” Frank announced.

“Oh, he’s here already?” Jill turned to see as the Chevelle’s door slammed. Frankie was through the door before the dust settled over the lot.

“Hey,” he said to Frank, Sr. Then he saw Jill.

“Oh, hi.”

“Hi Frankie,” she said.

“Frankie, you remember Jill? Swanson? We were neighbors.” Frank, Sr. made the introduction.

“Sure, yeah,” Frankie smiled, shuffled his feet, “it’s been awhile.”

“I was just telling your father it must be fifteen years.”

“Yeah, probably,” Frankie turned to his dad.

“Pop, you got a minute?”

Jill took that as her cue and stood.

“You two,” she said, “Good to see you both. But I better run. Another appointment.” She checked her watch. “Yeah. Thanks for the coffee Frank. I’ll think this over and let you know.” Relieved to have a reason to go. Both Franks felt it. She reached for Frank, Jr.’s hand.

“You remind me of your mother,” she said, then wished she hadn’t. “Good to see you. You look good.” Another little white lie. Frankie looked like he’d slept in his dirty jeans and wrinkled tee-shirt for some band Jill didn’t know.

“You, too,” Frankie replied. This was no lie. Jill still had a nice shape.

“Thanks for coming by Jill,” Frank said, and showed her out, “Let’s talk again soon. Think it over. It’d be a big help, good for us both.”

The two men watched the Mustang leave the lot.

“Good looking woman,” Frank, Sr., said, “Always was.”

“You two?” Junior’s question hung in the air like a lazy fly ball.

“Nah, nah,” Senior shrugged, “Just have a little business, hopefully.”

Junior turned from the window, fixed himself a cup of Folger’s and took the chair Jill had just vacated.

“I’m in deep shit Pop.”

“I figured. Why else would you call?”

“Hey, it’s not like that,” Junior, defensive, an old wound. “I had to lay low.”

“Gambling again, eh?” Senior said.

Junior didn’t offer anything.

“How much?”

“Fifty.”

“Thousand?”

“Yeah.”

“Jesus Frankie,” Senior shook his head.

“I’m way past due, too.”

Senior leaned back in his chair, shook his head.

“Tony C.?” His eyes locked on Frankie.

“Yeah,” Junior said, “I’m a dead man I don’t pay up.”

“That goes without sayin’,” Senior said, “but listen up. We can fix this.”

Frank laid out his plan.

“Meet me back here at five. But don’t come on the lot. Park at the Safeway. Be sure, before you come that Stan’s Caddy’s gone. If he’s still here, wait till he leaves.”

“How you going to get Tony C. here?”

“Not me,” Senior said, “You.”

“O-kay,” Frankie drew out the two syllables, “just how am I—”

“I don’t know. You owe ‘em fifty large. Tell that dago bastard I helped you scrape it together.”

“I’m a week late. I can’t show my face. He’ll whack me he gets close. Remember what he did to Lenny? Chaz’s little brother? Chaz owed Sid, then ran out. Tony tracked him down. Put him in the hospital. Two broken arms and twenty stitches in his face.”

“Okay, I’ll put the word out,” Senior said, “Call over to Classics and tell Ben to tell Tony I got somethin’ for ‘im.”

“Be careful Pop.”

“Yeah, don’t worry ‘bout me. You just be here at five. And be sure Stan’s gone.” Senior watched Junior’s face made sure he absorbed all this. “Then wait in the garage. I’ll get Tony back there.”

“He sees me—”

“Hide in the head.”

After Frankie left, Senior walked the lot and waited on Stan. When the mechanic arrived, Frank lined out the day’s jobs: new brakes on the Lincoln, tune-up the Datsun wagon, a new battery and charging system check for the 442.

Frank retired to his office and went over his plan. Everything hinged on getting Tony C. to the lot after five. He’d been keeping tabs on the gangster for six months. Frank knew that this being the end of the month, Tony wouldn’t just be collecting from Frankie, Jr. Their take would be enough to fly away on, maybe as much as a half a mill. But they had to hit Tony C. before he made the drop to the boss. That had been happening at Sid’s strip club, usually around ten.

The Classic Billiards Room was just a few blocks from the lot. Frank decided to walk instead of calling. Felt good to stretch his legs. The place was nearly deserted. Just a couple of twenty-somethings shooting eight ball across the room from the bar.

“Hey Frank,” the proprietor greeted him.

“Hey Ed,” Frank said, “How’s tricks?”

“Eh, you know,” Ed replied. “Some days it feels like a waste of time, others not so bad.”

“I hear ya,” Frank said, “Tony C. been around?”

“A little early for that crowd,” Ed said.

“Yeah. He don’t keep normal hours like us working stiffs,” Frank nonchalant as could be. “Do me a favor, you see him?”

“Sure thing.”

“Tell him to drop by the lot, after five. I got something for him,” Frank said, “from Frankie, Jr.”

Ed nodded, “Whatever you need.”

Frank walked briskly back to the lot. Stan sat outside the garage noshing on a ham and cheese sandwich.

“Any problems? Anybody drop in?” Frank asked.

“Been quiet,” Stan answered. “The Datsun’s ready to go, new battery’s in the Olds charging. The brake job’s all that’s left.”

“Sounds good,” Frank said, “Let’s get the Datsun and the Olds on the lot. The Lincoln’s going to the auction Monday. Leave it inside when you finish. Knock off at four. I gotta be outta here before five.”

Stan was good with that. Frank was, too. Tony C. would find just the two Jones boys here when he arrived. As planned.

The afternoon crept by. Frank killed time perusing the travel magazine he kept in his desk drawer. Pictures of sunny beaches got him daydreaming of exotic foreign shores, far from the gray skies of Western Washington.

At five-ten Frank, Sr. heard car wheels on the gravel drive. He looked out the window, anticipating Tony C.’s Cadillac. What he saw in its place he couldn’t believe. Frankie’s Chevelle rumbled up in a cloud of dust.

“No, dammit!” Frank charged out the door, directly into the path of the Chevelle, right arm extended, palm out. He looked up and stopped dead in his tracks.

“What the –!”

The last thing Frank Jones saw, before his spirit flew away, wasn’t a sandy beach, and it wasn’t Frankie, Jr. It was Tony C. behind the wheel, followed by the greasy undercarriage of Frankie’s Chevelle – just before his head met the cast iron casing of the rear differential.

Mystery
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About the Creator

Steve Murphy

He/Him. A writer & actor living in the Arizona desert. Born in Idaho, have also lived in California, Maui, & Seattle. Married to a creative art quilter and blessed with the company of two Airedale Terriers.

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