Clouds – A heist story By Mike McHone

Punk Noir Magazine

    I keep the gun on him. “Make a left on Southfield,” I say, and he does.

    His hands are steady on the wheel, his eyes straight ahead. He’s not acting shifty. He’s done everything I’ve told him without argument. Without saying anything, in fact, which is good. I’ve had enough surprises for one day. Granted, he looked like he wanted to put up a fight when I jumped in his car, but any fight he might’ve had popped like a balloon when he saw the gun.

    The air conditioner is cool, and the ride is smooth for an older car. I would’ve preferred my Nissan to this old-ass Taurus, but, you know, beggars, choosers, and all that. It was either stand there and watch my “get-away driver” get spooked at the sound of the alarm and peel away or jump in the first car that happened to roll by and order them to haul ass. I guess a third option would’ve been to take the sack filled with watches, necklaces, and rings back around the corner to the jewelry store andapologize. Maybe they would’ve forgiven me. Doubt it, since the owner threatened to —quote— “blast a friggin’ hole in” my “sorry ass” if I came back, but who knows. I’ve been wrong before. Rare, but it’s happened.

    We come to a red light.

    It’s midday, early June, bright, sunny. The sky is clear. Noclouds, no airplanes. The digital sign on the front of the PNC Bank building says it’s 2:51 pm and 87 degrees. Lovely day. But, of course, it’s offset by what seems to be half the goddamn population of southeastern Michigan around us on one of the busiest roads in the state. I keep the .38 trained on him at waist level. I always forget how heavy a gun is. Always. Don’t know why. Maybe I’ve seen too many movies. I don’t know. My hand’s getting tired, but I don’t let on. I prop my elbow up ontothe armrest on the door.

    He’s older, late 30s, early 40s, tan, with a bit of gray at his temples, touch of scruff on his jaw. He’s got on a white dress shirt tucked into a pair of khakis. Yeah, he’s handsome. Hot actually, now that I’m really looking at him. 

    Green light.

    A Chevy Malibu without a muffler pulls slightly ahead of us, its engine jackhammering on my eardrums. An F-350 with what looks like the cast from Duck Dynasty crammed into the cabcomes up along the other side and passes us. A black Kawasaki Ninja cuts in front of the Malibu, then in front of the F-350, weaves in and out of cars and trucks ahead of us, and speeds down the road. A car horn blares. The rider on the crotch rocketraises a middle finger. 

    “So, what’s your name?” I ask, and I don’t know why I ask. I didn’t realize I was going to say anything until I did.

    He looks over at me, at the gun, then turns his eyes back to the road. His tongue pokes out of his mouth and wets his lips. I think of the pet iguana I had with I was little. And that’s it. He doesn’t answer me.

    “What do you do for a living?”

    He sighs. 

    We pass a Domino’s and my stomach growls. I realize I haven’t eaten anything all day. Or drank anything. My throat isdry. Horribly dry. And it feels tight. I just now notice it. “Where were you headed today before I so rudely interrupte—”

    “Tell me where you need to go,” he cuts in.

    Jesus, I’m… What? Surprised? Caught off-guard at what he said. He didn’t yell it at me, it sounded more like a teacher trying to calm down a class and get them to focus on whatever’s being taught. Not mean, but, you know, stern.

   For a second, I fumble around trying to find some words. But only for a second. I don’t let on about that either. “Okay, I guess we don’t need the small talk. You didn’t expect this. You want things to get back to normal. I get it.”

    We pass Little Caesar’s and a half-dozen dollar stores. Traffic thins out as we approach West Jefferson. “Make a right.”

    He does. We coast down Jefferson, the Detroit River off on our left. Boats and jet skis are on the water. We pass John Dingell Park. Families are out enjoying the Saturday, walking, playing games, flying kites. People fish from the banks, poles and elbows leaning against the steel guardrails. I point to a parking lot next to a liquor store on the opposite side of the park. “Pull in here.”

    He does.

    “Around back, behind the building.”

    On the back wall of the liquor store, at the painted mural of the Detroit River upon it, the cartoon fishermen in boats and googly-eyed seagulls flying in front of a smiley face sun. It’scute. I like it.

    I open the door, grab the sack, step out of the air conditioning and into the humidity and the strong odor of river water, keeping my eyes and gun on him. “I’d appreciate it if we kept this between us,” I say. He says nothing. He sits. He breathes. He stares out of the windshield. I slam the door and I stand there and watch as he pulls out back onto West Jefferson and headsaway.

    I take a breath. My hand is aching, sore, trembling. I put the gun in the sack and hide it between the dumpster and some old plastic milk crates at the backside of the store. I take the shoulder-length ginger wig off my head and the Metallica t-shirtI’m wearing and throw them into the dumpster. I adjust my white tank top and bra. I take off the blue jeans and strip down to the pair of cut-offs I have on underneath. The jeans go into the dumpster too. My hair is soaked with sweat. I swipe my forearm across my forehead and walk into the store to buy a Pepsi and some gummy worms.

    Coming back outside, I down half the Pepsi, and stand there with a cartoon sun smiling at me. I pick up the sack, shove it into the plastic bag the guy behind the counter gave me along with his elevator eyes and an invitation to have “a very nice day, bee-you-tee-full,” dig the sunglasses out of my pocket, put them on my face, and start the five mile walk to the apartment.

    An hour later, I go inside and close and lock the door behind me. The AC’s been broken for a week and the stupid-ass landlord still hasn’t fixed it, but the windows are open and there’s a cool breeze coming in and that helps a little.

    I walk into the living room, sit down on the couch, set the sack next to me, and start dinner.

    And by “start dinner” I mean I open the bag of gummy wormsand start eating.

    I grab the remote off the end table, turn on the TV, and flip to Channel 4. The news will be on in a little bit. I always try to watch the news after a job. Granted, I don’t always make the news. Also granted, I haven’t pulled too many news-worthy jobs in my ten-month career. There was the Great Blue Jeans Heist from the JC Penney at Fairlane Mall last summer, the Notorious Wig Pilferage from the Halloween USA store in Taylor last autumn, and the Crowbar to the Outdoor ATM Caper in front of the Silver Cricket strip club. None of these made the news. However, the Stupendous Citgo Station Hold Up in Dearborn Heights a month ago did get a shout out on Channel 2. That one went smoothly. In and out of there in less than twenty seconds, and my “driver” stayed until the job was complete and we were both able to get away. Amazing, right? Bee-you-tee-full.

    Speaking of the dipshit driver, I hear the toilet flush. The door to the bathroom opens and the driver saunters down the hall. “When’d you get home?” Charlie asks me.

    “Just now. How about you? Right after you bailed, I take it?”

    “Sorry,” he says. He sits down and a tectonic shift hits the couch. He’s “little brother” in birth line only. Sixteen-years-old and already six-one, three-hundred pounds. Growing and feasting are the only areas in life in which Charlie Reyes could be considered an overachiever. And, as if on cue, he points at the gummy worms and says, “Can I have some?” 

    I give him the bag. “Where’s mom?”

    “She called and said she was still running around putting inapplications.”

    “Anyone call from Ford like she was expecting?”

    “No.”

    Not surprised. It’s the third time she’s put in an application to the stamping plant out in Woodhaven this year alone. Not to mention the three times she put submitted an app last year. She’s been trying to get out of waitressing at the country club and into a better-paying job, any kind of job, for a while. And trying to get our dad to actually pay the child support he owes for longer than that.

    “You get a lot from the place?” Charlie asks.

    “Yep.”

    “Enough to help with rent?”

    “Yeah.”

    “A new car?”

    “As soon as I can hock the stuff.”

    “What kind are we going to get?”

    “I am not sure what kind of car I will buy for myself but thank you for asking.”

    “I said I was sorry, Danni! Dang! I need a car, too! I’m getting my license next year! I already know how to drive!”

    “I know. I saw your driving skills. From the goddamn sidewalk as you were pulling away.”

    “Come on!”

    Not in the mood to hear any whining, I treat the subject like a stolen wig. “Did you finish your homework?”

    “Yeah! You?”

    “I did. Before I went out on the job. That’s what a responsible person does.”

    Between chews of a gummy worm, he informs me that, “Summer school can suck my balls.”

    “Don’t talk about your balls,” I tell him. “But, chins up, big boy. After this month, I’m done and graduated, and by this time next year you will be too.”

    He asks, “Do you think mom would be mad if she found outabout what we’ve been doing?”

    “Of course! What the hell is wrong with you…? Actually, don’t bother with that. The answer could take you forever.” 

    The news comes on and I tell Charlie to be quiet. Stan Logan, the news anchor I’ve had a crush on since eighth grade says, “We thank you for joining us here on Channel 4. We have a lot of news to get to today. Our top story takes us to Dearborn at the scene of a robbery that occurred just a little over an hour ago.”

    “Here it is!” I say. Charlie and I share a glance and a smile.

    “Fred Lockhart is on scene at the Dearborn Heights Credit Union, at the corner of Michigan Avenue and Gulley Road.”

    “Motherf—”

    “Fred?”

    Cut to a bearded guy with glasses standing in front of the credit union building.

    “Stan, credit union employees and Dearborn Heights Police are saying a middle-aged man entered the credit union andhanded a teller a note saying he needed all the cash in the drawers. And there was something else about the robber…”

    Cut to an older woman with curly white hair.

    “He was very good looking!” And she giggles.

    “That’s Geraldine D’Angelise,” Fred Lockhart’s voiceover says, “a teller who’s worked at the credit union for over twenty-five years.”

    “He came in,” Geraldine continues, “was quite pleasant, handed me the note, said please, thank you, have a nice day, and then he left. You don’t want to be robbed obviously, but if you have to be, I guess there’s worse people to do it to you.” More giggles.

    “It’s estimated he made off with over ten-thousand dollars.”

    “Where’s our story?” Charlie asks, and I shush him.

    “Stan, photos of the suspect and the car he was spotted leaving the scene of the crime in was provided to us from the police. We’re putting them up on the screen now.”

    And… “Holy shit.” 

    “What?” Charlie asks.

    I ignore him and focus on the tanned face, the eyes, the hair, the Ford Taurus. 

    “Police are asking people in the area be on the lookout for this man. But they are also saying to not approach him by any means as they believe he is armed.”

    I can hear my own blood.

    “Thank you, Fred. Coming up, we’ll check in with Scott Cooley with sports to see how the Tigers might fair against the Angels tonight, and later Kelsey Meyer’s going to give us our forecast for this evening. Stick around. You’re watching 4 at four.”

    A commercial for a plastic surgeon in Wyandotte comes on.

    Charlie says something. And says something else.

    “Huh?” I say.

    “Can I have some more gummy worms?”

    I hand him the bag. He gets up and takes them to his room.

    My eyes are stuck to the TV. I’m not really watching it. I see it, see what’s happening, but I’m not, you know, looking. 

    I grab the remote and turn the TV off. 

    Armed. But… Where? Where was the gun? Did he even have one? If he did, where wa—

    A car door. 

    I run to the kitchen window.

    Mom.

    Shit.

    I grab the sack and run down the hall. I take the gun out of the sack, go into mom’s room and put it back in her sock drawer, right beneath the black footies in the top drawer. I arrange the socks so they look just like they did before I left the apartment. I close the drawer, run to my room and stuff the sack under my bed behind a black garbage bag filled with stuffed animals I’d been meaning to get rid of.

    I hear a key slide into the front door. 

    As I’m shoving the sack behind the stuffed animals, I can feel the Rolexes, the Breitlings, the necklaces, bracelets, and rings inside. It would’ve been nice to open it, to look at the haul, to try on a few maybe, but that’ll have to wait, I guess. 

    The door opens.

    I move the garbage bag in front of the sack and stand up.

    “I’m home!” she calls out. 

    I sit on my bed and grab my calculus textbook off my nightstand and open it to some random page and pretend to read. 

    I hear her walk down the hall.

    I slow my breathing.

    She pokes her head in my room. I look up from the book I’m not reading.

    “Hey,” she says.

    “Hey.”

    “What do you want for dinner?”

    I start to answer her, but just as I’m about to say “I don’t care,” I hear a siren from somewhere in the distance and for some reason I can’t focus. I can’t answer. I can’t say anything.

    “Pizza sound good?”

    There’s a knot in my throat, so I nod.

    “Why don’t you open a window,” she says. “It’s hot in here.”She pulls her head out of my room and goes to Charlie’s room and asks him if he wants pizza. I can’t hear what he says. 

    I look down at the book. 

    It’s upside down.

    THE END

Mike McHone is an American writer, former journalist, and kinda/sorta part-time musician, and somewhat funny former comedian. Impressed yet?
 

Mike was born in Monroe, Michigan, a small city, just south of Detroit. He is an only child because perfection has no competition.

His parents were avid readers, which was odd because both of them were illiterate. Elmore Leonard and Kinky Friedman were among his father’s favorites, while Edgar Allan Poe and Joyce Carol Oates were his mother’s. He has cited these writers as influences along with Gregory Mcdonald, Harlan Ellison, Flannery O’Connor, John Steinbeck, and whoever it was that wrote the Uncle John’s Bathroom Reader books.
 

Writing Career (or a Reasonable Facsimile Thereof)

After graduating high school in the 90’s, McHone moved from location to location over the next eight years and held jobs in factories, retail shop, security, and sales. When he wasn’t employed (which was often), he kept busy by being lazy, drunk, and playing guitar and bass in bands throughout the Detroit and Toledo areas. He once auditioned for the lead guitarist position for the heavy metal band Anthrax. He didn’t get the gig, which is obvious because he turned to writing as a vocation. Lucky him.

A few months after enrolling in a community college in 2003, McHone was invited to write for the school newspaper where his articles were spotted by editors at various papers throughout the southeastern Michigan, northwest Ohio, and northeast Indiana markets which led to a career in freelancing. Within the year, McHone had secured a position as a fulltime reporter, as well as a music critic and editor for the award-winning magazine Clamor in Toledo, and columnist for the short-lived, but oh-so-fondly remembered Detroit music magazine The Record.

By 2014 his work had appeared in The AV ClubNeo-Opsis Science Fiction MagazineThe Detroit NewsThe Toledo BladeHustler, and Playboy. (And just for clarification, he submitted jokes and short humor pieces to Hustler and Playboy, not photos for centerfold layouts, so don’t get excited.)

Recently

In 2018, after working in the journalism field for many years, McHone wrote “This Used to be a Quiet Town,” “From Green to Red,” “A Drive-by on Chalmers Road?” and “K. O’Connor,” the first four stories in a series dubbed The Midport Mysteries. All of these stories found homes in the pages of Mystery Weekly, Ellery Queen, and Mystery Tribune.