In the old days it was my job to be the decoy. It was my function and it was a critical job. When a job was going down it was my job to be driving up and down the road in my Camaro. It was my job to watch and wait. If there was a police car coming it was basically my job to lead him off the path and earn myself a speeding ticket.
Criminal activities were going on, and despite the statute of limitations I'd rather not go into details. I haven't been a criminal for twenty years and I have no intention of resuming said activities, although my associates and I were rather good at what we did. Our biggest operation was so well planned out that we were out of town six hours before the crime went down and we had a U.S. Marshall backing our alibi, and this was possible in spite of us providing alcohol for a party hosted by his sixteen year old daughter. It gets complicated after that. It is a story that seems hard to believe for me, even when I'm the one telling it. We had game in those days, and we were the smartest criminals in the city. We knew that, we remembered that, and when we pulled one off we kept ourselves from being too cocky by telling ourselves we were going to eventually get caught. Every smart criminal knows that.
A year before my suicide in 1994, we officially retired. We were just going to disappear, as in stop pulling jobs and make like we never existed at all. Our last job had been a very big one, although we pulled an incredibly small pay day because someone had switched the dates of the cash drop at this particular establishment. We were certain our days were numbered and so we quit, just like that, and decided to rely on our day jobs to pay the bills.
That didn't go very well. My primary partner in my life of crime became my roommate. His day job was as a tow truck driver and mine was as a substitute mail carrier. He had trouble getting up on time for work. He'd worked for every tow truck company in the city, and despite his skills at breaking into cars and getting out of tight spots, being on time mattered to these people. He was often out of work and unable to pay bills. My unreliable schedule as a substitute mail carrier meant I couldn't carry the bills in a regular way and we soon parted ways. It had as much to do with that as with the fact that our love for danger continued after our criminal activity ended. We came to a head, mostly over sleeping with each other's girlfriends, and parted ways.
Three years passed since I had seen or talked with him. My roommate three years later was a part time bartender and my former partner knew of him. He came to the bar where my roommate worked, had more than a few beers and then told him who he was, asked him to call me and ask me to come down to bar.
In the days when he was the primary and I was the decoy he had always been the larger man and I had always been the shadow. In the moment when I walked into that bar I saw that our roles had been reversed.
"Have a beer with me. Sixteen years of friendship shouldn't end like it did."
"I never walked away. You did."
"We fucked everyone else in the city. You ever think the only think left was for us to fuck each other?"
"We did that, too."
"I guess we did."
Over the years we had so often gotten drunk together. We'd so often gotten completely shitfaced together. The thing was, he'd already gotten there and I was completely sober. Over the course of our friendship that had never happened, not in sixteen years of knowing each other. We'd gotten drunk together on vodka and orange juice in the ninth grade before going on a field trip. We'd jumped off a roof together after robbing a gas station and getting so drunk we couldn't see straight or even stand up. Now he just looked so small and I had other things to do.
"We never buried this," I told him after quickly downing a shot and a beer. "This is where it all ends. Proper and shit."
"You forgive me?"
"Always have. Can you forgive me?"
"It will take time."
"We fucked up. We were smart, we had potential, but all we wanted was girls. Seriously, man, all we wanted was girls and then when we hooked up we wanted someone else. We were greedy, stupid and crazy. We wanted to flash money, look big and get more girls. It doesn't get stupider than that."
"So, you're okay now?"
"Eh, killed myself a few years ago, rose from the dead and now I have angels telling me I have to do some shit. So I avoid commitment by staying drunk as much as possible."
"I was there for that. I don't know why I didn't do anything."
"If you would have I would have worked around it."
"Yeah, I figured as much."
"No one dies like I do."
"Yeah, and you could drive like a motherfucker."
"Funny thing is, I can't drive anymore. Driving gives me panic attacks. Sort of like fate or someone is fucking with me."
He paid his tab and stood up. "Listen to those angels, man. I know I need to start listening to mine."
My recent intelligence has told me he has continued to stay on the straight path, getting married and starting his own security business. Who is better at security than someone who was once an expert at overwhelming it?
In 1984 I transferred to the University of Arizona after my freshman year in college and moved to Tucson, Arizona. I was, at the time, quite convinced that to key to overcoming my crippling shyness and social awkwardness was to remove myself from everyone I'd ever known and force myself to make it on my own.
This did not go well. At the very least, it did not go according to plan. I ended up giving up on going to classes after a month and sealing myself up in my off-campus apartment. I became isolated and paranoid, and inexplicably I started answering ads in the local free paper for bands looking for singers. I had decided to take my social awkwardness and fear of speaking in public to new levels, by asserting myself as a rock singer.
This would seem to make little to no sense, and in retrospect it rather does. I had a mission, and that mission was to transform myself into a completely new person because I hated the person I was. And so, I would hook up with rock bands and force myself to audition for them as a singer, even though I couldn't sing and I was terrified of getting up and speaking in public.
It took a man that everyone called "Cow" to see what I was doing. It was the fifth band I'd made a complete ass of myself in front of, and it was a band he hung out with. Cow was known as a drug dealer and an all-around bad ass, but he came up to me after my horrific audition and pulled me aside.
"Dude, I am trying to get my head around this. You aren't a singer, you can't fucking sing to save your life, but you act like you are. What are you about?"
It took a while, but eventually I admitted the truth to him. "I am going to go home, probably after the end of the year, and I want to tell people I did some shit when I was here. I want them to respect me and treat me as more than just the quiet kid who never does anything."
"Look, man, you can't sing. You have to stop trying to pull that off, no one is buying it."
I handed him a piece of paper. "I write stuff. This is a song I wrote."
Cow read the lyric and handed it to the band. "Record this shit. I like it."
That song was recorded and a year later appeared in a network television show. I didn't see a dime of profit off it, but I didn't care. That was my little secret, and I liked holding onto it.
After that, Cow became very interested it me. For a while I thought it might be something else, but he was intrigued by the things I thought and believed. He introduced me to peyote and it was the only time I experienced that particular drug. It was Cow's insistence on it being a pure and "religious" experience and how he approached it that convinced me. After all, I was pretending to be a singer when I couldn't sing or get up in front of a crowd, so how bad could any decision after that be?
It was an interesting experience, after which he told me that in ten years I would betray my closest friend and would die.
"People cannot find me. I'm wanted for things I can't explain to you. It is time for me to go, but I have one thing I need to ask you."
"What is it?"
"Sing with the band tonight."
There are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy...
"Beer me, Horatio."
The year was 2000, and my old friend was the bartender. Two members of our old "gang" were at the bar, and I had been invited during a trip back up north from Florida. I was purposely casual, even though there was nothing casual about this event. A number of events had transpired over the years at this particular bar, and some of them were less than savory.
"You really show up after all this time," said one of my former associates who was now sitting next to me. "Thought you were dead."
"I am dead, and Horatio here would rather not tell you a few things. We ran a lot on our own, him and I, and you weren't the wiser. When we had a big money job we left you out of."
"Don't care much about it anymore. What we're worried about is if you are going to start talking about it all."
"Nothing I write or talk about will ever bite you in the ass, so don't worry about it." What I really wanted to say was that he wasn't involved in anything that really mattered. Everything big was always a two man job. The fewer people that know, and so forth.
"He won't," said Horatio. "That shit stays in the vault."
"Indeed. My turn to get shitfaced while you watch, eh?"
In the fall of 1989, Horatio and I had been at that same bar. We'd won two-hundred dollars in a music trivia contest, getting every question right between the two of us. We blew it all that same night, on drinks and tips, and one of us left the bar with the girlfriend of the band's drummer. For months after, we went to see the same band there every Thursday night and found it amusing that they had a new drummer, who we called "Substitute," in part because they played that song by The Who after he joined the band.
It was then that we decided to turn our small time criminal activities into a career. That plan involved me trying to sing with the band and becoming combative while Horatio relieved the bar of its cash. It worked like a charm.
It started as a joke, a way for me to combat the pain of breaking up with a girlfriend I'd been with for three and a half years, and turned into a nightmare of highly profitable proportions. It pretty much ended in New Orleans in 1993 with the most perfect crime ever committed ending with two guys in a hotel room with a really big bag of loose coins.
"They didn't change the combination on the safe, they didn't change the security system, they just changed the date of the money drop."
And, going through toll booths with Horatio handing me dollar bills I pulled over into a rest area and screamed, "If we have a bag of coins why aren't we at least paying these tolls with exact change?"
Things started to come apart that night. You have to consider two men who had turned their backs on their three usual accomplices to pull off the perfect crime. Everything went perfectly except we were left with a bag of change. It was our little secret, shared only with the bartender who had told us everything except that the date of their cash drop had changed. Horatio walked through the door with its inactive security system and I drove my Camaro up and down the street.
"Don't ask, just drive."
"The plan doesn't change."
As of this month, twenty years has passed since my last crime, the master stroke that would leave us flush for a very long time. It was the strangest of all our crimes because we hadn't done it for ourselves. We did it for a bartender who had been sexually assaulted by the owner and was then accused of stealing to undercut her story. We did it for her. It was a bigger job that any we'd ever pulled and produced the smallest payday of any of our crimes.
Her name was Christine. The angels have a sense of humor.
I'll run decoys as long as I have to until all my girls find redemption. That much is certain. I don't really care about anything else.