Three for the Money cover copy 2

It was supposed to be so simple.

Gordon Mitchell had the good life all planned out: A million and a half in embezzled cash, a plane waiting in Mexico to take him far away, and a sexy little thing named Janey to call his own.

All he had to do was stop off on the way and kill his wife, Wanda.

Simple.

At least it was before an Ivy Leaguer-turned-highway robber named Spike Jones held him up, fell in love with Wanda, and shanghaied his RV.

Now it’s not so simple.

But the way Gordon sees it, the good life is still within his reach.

And a little more blood on his hands sure isn’t going to stop him from getting it.

June 1996

1

The day before Gordon Mitchell was going to kill his wife, dreams of the life awaiting him tickled his mind like silent, playful caresses. He held the silence close, then, slowly, allowed in the sound of waves slipping onto the sand. He closed his eyes and could see the sun fat and orange and low in the sky, just dipping its oval in the water of the horizon. No Wanda. No worries. Never have to think twice about bills, about buying a round of drinks for your pals, about making a big

Down payment? The chunky guys eyes were almost bulging out of his glasses. The ad in the paper said No down payment. What kind of a scam you running here?

Gordon came back down from the clouds, remembering now where he was and who he was talking to: He was at Major Dales RV World in Elkhart, Indianarecreational vehicle capital of the world! And he was talking to a major burr in his saddle.

Of course, Gordon had been in this situation hundreds, quite possibly thousands of times in his fifteen years at Dales. But just in case, he switched off his autopilot and assumed the controls of his well-oiled pitch machine.

Okay to call you Dan? he asked his beefy quarry.

Chunky Dan gave a half-shrug. Whatever. The ad said No down payment.’”

Why is that important to you, Dan? He casually leaned up against the side of the mini-homes cab, forcing Dan to look at the beautiful machine he was nickel-and-diming himself away from. A thousand dollars to drive home in this doesnt sound like much to me.

Principle means something here.

Gordon leaned forward. Principal, like money?

No, principle, like the bigger picture.

He leaned back. Look, Dan, I want to sell you this mini-home. You want to buy it. All I need is a thousand bucks cash and you got it. Whats it gonna take to do this? Its Friday afternoon, quarter to sixfifteen minutes and Im gone for the weekend.

Dan chewed his lip.

Runway up ahead, Gordon thought with a smile. Bring er in easy. You mean to tell me your wifes gonna be happy about not having this baby out tomorrow, all for a lousy grand?

How do I know its worth it?

A bigger smile spread across Gordons face. Ask a salesman How do I know its worth it and get ready for the show. Rambling RVs are the best-built, most reliable coaches in the world, Dan. We take pride on doing things the best, things that the average customerhell, even the sharpest customer, like you, Danwouldnt think about. Watch this.

Wagging a finger at his chunky customer, Gordon stepped over to the next row of vehicles, the giant bus-like Vacationeers, and tugged on the metal tubing holding the huge side mirror in place. Then he grabbed on and lifted his bulk off the ground, hanging a little over two hundred pounds on the tubing and bouncing on it a little for good measure. Tell me thats not fine workmanship, Gordon said as he let himself back onto the asphalt and came back next to Dan. Huh? Tell me.

Yeah, its fine. Lemme talk to your sales manager.

You got him, Gordon said, still smiling but feeling a little turbulence in this landing.

Then I want to see Major Dale. You guys said there was no goddamn down payment.

Mayday! LookDan. How much we talking about for this baby?

You said seventeen. Mr. Principle was looking interested.

Seventeen nine.

Make it twelve. Just give me a thousand dollars. Today.

Dan looked like a kid walking into a surprise birthday party, only with five thousand bucks sitting amidst all the streamers and balloons instead of a cake. Really? You serious?

We aim to please, Gordon said. And knocking five gs off the price is guaranteed to hit the mark, knock it dead. Dead. His thoughts turned to Wanda again, and a peaceful smile spread over his face.

Dan swung out a bank envelope, something Gordon had seen more times than a farmers seen shit. Got it right here. Dont we have some paperwork or something?

Gordon looked at his watch, although he knew exactly what time it was, down to the second. Do you really want to fill out forms right now or drive off in your new RV? He took the cash, felt its silky beauty in his hands for a moment, checked to see none of the other employees of Major Dales was looking, and slipped the wad into his shirt pocket. Come back Monday and take care of that stuff, okay? He wouldnt be there Monday, of course, or Tuesday, or ever again.

You bet I will, Dan said with a wide grin, and shook Gordons hand. Thank you so much. No hard feelings about the down payment thing?

Forget about it.

The grin got wider, which hardly seemed possible, and that was that. Dan took the keys, got the fifth-wheel hitched to his pickup, and was gone.

Gordon beamed as he slipped the cash into his wallet. Perfect three-point landing. Maybe the last one of his high-flying career on the RV lot, for tomorrow, he had to get out of Dodge if he hoped to avoid a hanging.

Hanging. Death again. It made him think of Wanda, his wife, and that warmed his heart. He whistled softly as he strolled back to the deluxe manufactured housing office to formally list Chunky Dans Mayan-Berrycolored mini-home as being out on a test drive for the weekend

His cell phone chirped. Janey, I thought you were gonna call earli—”

Janey? Expecting someone else? Wanda barked through the ether. Dont tell methe little chippies a customer.

What is it, Wanda? Finishing up here.

Well, I just talked to my sister. Shes letting us stay over at her place during the trip.

Gordon reminded himself he was on a cell phone. Its not a trip. We have business to take care of, remember? Theres a very wealthy person waiting for this RV in New Mexico, and we wouldnt want to be late, right?

Wealthy person? What are you talking about? I thought this was the weekend we were taking the cash and—”

Jesus, were on a cell phone here.

Well, weve got to stop sometime, Gordon. Its a twenty-six-hour drive.

Well find a motel.

Were staying at my sisters. Its halfway there.

Ron Mitchell, the loudspeaker outside the dealership boomed. One-one.

Gotta go, Gordon said. That whole job thing.

My sisters, she said again. Its not up for discussion—”

He pressed a button and shut her up. Before he could even take a step toward the office, the phone chirped at him again.

He swept it up and shouted into it, Goddamnit, Wanda—”

Wanda? Were you expecting someone else? the small voice on the line, younger and smoother than his wifes, strained to yell.

A hand went over his eyes. Janey. Sorry. That bitch has me crazy.

Well, you wont have to worry about her much longer. Gordon could feel her smiling all the way from Las Cruces.

Cell phone, honey, he said. Im a bit rushed, sweetiewhats up?

Just wanted to hear your voice, Ronny. Oh, and I got my ticket with the money you sent.

Fantastic. That makes life easier. Ill call you on the road, okay?

Ill be waiting, sugar.

Love you, babe.

Oooh, love you, she purred. Oh, and Ronny? If you ever call me Wanda again, you know Ill rip your fucking throat out, right?

Perfectly understandable, baby, he said, and cut the connection.

The loudspeaker sounded again. Ron Mitchell, one-one. One-one. Now.

He winced. Five minutes left before he could escape and he gets a one-one. Which meant Dale wanted to see him. And that couldnt be good.

2

As he himself liked to say, Gordon Ron Mitchell had been a lot of things to a lot of people, many of whom shaped him in their own images, which suited him just fine. He was the football star, the backseat Valentino, whateverpeople looked at him and fit him into categories, categories which usually translated into meaning he was what they wanted to be. As a child, he was friends to almost everyone except the skinny, nerdy kids he felt could do nothing for him, the kids that as eight-year-olds went crazy for Sputnik and flying-saucer movies while he was more interested in girls (even thenChrist) and work, at that tender age odd jobs that didnt pay much but still facilitated relations with the girls.

Of course, he didnt even know what to do with girls back then. But he found out soon enough.

What he found out was that girls responded to talk. Action, sure, they liked strong, silent types as well. But what they really liked was being swept off their feet by a silver-tongued devil that made them feel like they were on top of the world.

The nerds taught him that. How, he never told anybody, but he remembered the day he learned talk could get him into or out of anything. Gordon and his buddy Leon were getting ready to traumatize this geek you know, stuff him in his locker or stick him in the trunk of a car or somethingwhen the kid said to Gordon, Hey, I bet you could beat the shit out of Leon, huh?

Gordon stopped, a grin half-cocked on his face, and sized up his pal. Hell, yes, he said.

The fuck you could, Leon said, smiling himself but dead serious, and he gave Gordon a playful little shove.

Gordon shoved back, and before he or Leon knew what was happening, they were slugging each other, knocked down on the floor of the hallway. The nerd was gone and forgottenuntil later, when Gordon sat him down and listened to every word he said. Because if words worked that well on two toughs getting ready to pound someone, imagine how well it would work on some pretty little thing.

He never acknowledged the geeks in front of anybody, naturally, but he knew from then on that their ability to talk circles around anyone, their verbal slickness, their mental smoothnesstransplanted into his body, these made up the skeleton key to any door he might care to open, and certainly to those of girls and money.

In high school, he discovered Ron worked better than Gordon, even though he couldnt stand the sound of Ron (and he would never tell his sainted mother, who gave him his name, that he would so carelessly replace it). Ron Mitchell had no interest in football until he noticed talk alone wasnt doing it anymorehe needed some stature, and playing tailback at Elkhart Memorial gave it to him in spades.

Then came Wanda.

Gorgeous, not too smart, entranced by Gordons considerable charms. They met in his sophomore year at Indiana University in Bloomington and married four months later.

He had no junior year at Bloomington. He moved his new bride back up to Elkhart and, after ten years driving semis and getting laid in some of the prettiest spots in North America, started selling RVs at her uncles lot. Her uncle, a decorated veteran of the Korean War, was Major Dale.

* * *

 Paged me, Dale? Gordon asked as he half-knocked on the door. Major Dale, stroking his white moustache as he gazed out onto the shimmering concrete of the sales lot, motioned for Gordon to sit. This didnt bode well for getting out of there in a hurry. The lots looking a little light,Dale said.

The tongue-twister hung Gordon up for a moment; then he got what Dale was saying. End of the week. You know, plenty of deliveries.

Were missing vehicles, Gordy. I want to know where they are.

Smooth, Gordon told himself. Think silk, good Scotch, white skin Jeez, Dale, you know how I am with paperwork when the weekends here. Have that for you Monday, no problem.

Today. I want to know where every vehicle is today.

Gordon could feel sweat beads pulsing on his forehead. He looked at the clock: ten after six. He had to meet Morihita at seven-thirty and not a minute later. The Japanese were bitches for punctuality. Test drives. Couple of those.

Fine. Write them down with the deliveries. Whenever youre done, Ill be here. Im always here, you know that. Sixty-eight years old and you dont see me running off around the country, taking it easy, Dale said with a pronounced sniff.

It was amusing how a businessman as successful as Major Dale could have so much contempt for one of his core customer bases, retirees. They plunked down cash for new RVsClass As, none of this fifth-wheel stuff for themlike there was no tomorrow. Of course, for the Methuselahs they got in there, there probably werent too many tomorrows left.

Silk, skin, Scotch. Smooth. Look, Dale, I want to give you those numbers, and I will. But you know Ive got that delivery to make, the Vacationeer down to New Mexico tonightleaving in a couple of hours, he said, looking at his watch for effect. Back Tuesday, though. Wandas coming with mewere making a little vaca … trip of it. Gordon knew Dale hated his people, especially his nephew-in-law, taking vacations. See what I mean?

Weve got a floor-plan checker from Rambling coming in here tomorrowwere gonna be closed a Saturday, our biggest day of the weekto make sure everythings kosher. Hell freeze us if it isnt. Im sorry, Gordy, I need those figures, all of em, tonight, before you leave.

Dizziness swept over Gordon. If he missed meeting Morihita, he wouldnt get his traveling money. If he didnt get his traveling money, there was no point even going down to New Mexico. And if he didnt get down to New Mexicothen over the borderhe would be in jail by the end of the week, as soon as the floor-plan checker noticed a dozen VINs didnt match up with the vehicles on the lot. Then Wanda, who had thrown in with him to cash in and get away from it all, would have no choice but to turn witness on her husband to save herself from going down. It was the risk he took enlisting Wanda as protection against her uncles suspicionsDales little Wanda would never do anything like thisuntil he could get her alone and get her dead.

He had to beat the Rambling floor-plan checker. He had to buy time. Tell you what, Dale. I want to get everything in order and you want everything in order, so were on the same page here. The Rambling guy isnt gonna freeze a dealership of this size—”

The hell he isnt. I need it tonight, Gordy. Or is there some reason you dont want the numbers known?

His hair stood on end. This was impossible. Gordon had covered his tracks. Unless Wanda had said something to her unclethat bitch! When he finally got her where he wanted her

The checker, names Johnson, has already stopped by, Gordy. He found some discrepancies. Big ones. Dale cleared his throat. Now, I know how you are with paperwork and letting folks have long test drives, and so does he, so he agreed not to freeze us until he does another check tomorrow. Were getting a break. See why I need this tonight?

Gordon ignored the attempt to reason; Dale wasnt half the salesman he was. What about the delivery? A touring Class A, two hundred eighty thousand and change. You wanna just let the sale go?

Gordon! Whats got into you? Of course not. Ive got another salesman to deliver the vehicleTimothy.

Timothy? Gordon said, eyes bugging. Not Tim, right? Its Timothy.

Hes a good kid. He can get the coach down to New Mexico and get all the papers signed. Its not that hard, Gordon.

Greenhorn. Guys a greenhorn. Gordon scoffed as well as he could with all of the blood draining from his vital systems. He cant shut this sale.

Major Dale leaned forward in his huge chair, the oiled leather squeaking incongruously. You are going to stay here until every vehicle that is supposed to be on this lot is accounted for. Call in every one of your extended test drives. Get every scrap of paperwork from every sale youve made in the past month. Account for all of the cash from the Japanese sales. I am going home. You will do ittonight.

Gordon looked at the clock. Six-thirty. He had an hour until Morihita, cash, freedomif he made it. One hour. Mind if I grab dinner?

Dale nodded. Bye, Dale! Gordons heart soared.

Then his wifes uncle said, Take Timothy with you. I want you back here.

And with that, any opportunity for further smooth talking was lost.

* * *

 Anger and frustration fried his brain. Months planning this out, nearly a year, the triple crown of lots of cash, Wanda deader than eight-tracks, and a new life away from hawking RVs to Mr. and Mrs. Methuselah every day dancing before him, and pow! The one month he picks, Rambling calls the dealership to the carpet hours before hes gone.

All that, and hes stuck with Jonny Quest the tenderfoot salesman, part of the new breed mostly seen at the manufacturer lots: Clean-cut, service-oriented, looking toward management in the company. Christ.

As they drove in silence to dinner in Gordons customized converted vanmade in Elkhart, van conversion capital of the world!he noticed that Timothy was lustily admiring the conversion work, especially the audio system. This could be an opening, he saw. Everybodys got an opening. He jumped in.

Like it? Four thousand bucks for the whole job.

Gee! I love stuff like this, Timothy said as he took it in.

Gee? Did the kid actually say gee, as in gee whiz golly willickers? Um look, Timothy, you sure you know how to handle a Class A? Like a bus, you know?

Oh, sure. My pop was a trucker. Ive handled the big rigs before. You dont think I can do it, Mr. Mitchell?

Call me Ron, Gordon said automatically, although he actually would have preferred the little dork call him Mr. Mitchell, get the pecking order well-established. Far as handling it goes, Im sure youd do just fine, Timothy. But maybe I want to take it down to New Mexico. Talking motivation here.

I dont follow you, Mr. MitchRon.

Gordon fired up the bullshit props on his finely crafted mental P-38. He loved the hum of his minds engines as he zeroed in on a target, be it a sale, a lay, whatever. I want to drive the RV down, son. Its my twenty-fifth with the wife. Wanna take her on a little trip.

The Major must have his reasons for keeping you here, right?

Got that right. Old men like Dale dont need to keep young wives happy, Timothy. Young ones do.

I dont follow you, Mr. Mitchell.

Gordon shook his head and realized that hell, to the tenderfoot, he probably looked older than Moses. Talking about me. I need to take the coach, get me?

Timothy pondered this for a moment, seeming to weigh the implications of everything Gordon had said and what effect it might have on his brand-new career if anything went awry. Then he looked around the cabin of the van, checking out the teakwood trim, the color TV, the Rockford Fosgate unit, the sunken speakers, the power amps, the cherry rose carpeting on the floor and walls, even the Chevrolet key ring hanging from the ignition.

You gonna help me out, Timothy?

Gosh, Ron, he said in his Dennis-the-Menace lilt, whats it worth to ya?

Gordons lips curled into a toothy smile. Wasnt gonna take the van with him anyway.

3

Major Dale did not go home after talking to Gordon, instead calling his wife and telling her to hold dinner until he called again. Then he swiveled in his finely upholstered leather chair to face the sales lot and the Mediterranean Aqua Vacationeer, over a quarter of a million dollars worth of cruising luxury that was scheduled to go down to New Mexico tomorrow with Timothy now instead of Gordon.

When he saw Timothy pull uphey, wasnt that Gordons van?and climb into the Vacationeer, he almost turned his back to the window and told his wife to go ahead and heat up whatever the hell she planned on making.

But then he saw Gordon climb out of the van and skulk into a Coyote Tan Class A Luxliner Junior, driving it right off the lot after Timothy in the Vacationeer.

He picked up the phone but not to call his wife. He followed the series of voice-mail instructions made by the phone system of the Elkhart Police Department.

Finally a human answered and Dale said, Yes, Detective Gann, its me. It turns out you were right all along.

4

Gordon always thought it was hilarious that the Japs would come ten thousand miles, fly for fourteen hours, to see America and the first place they had to go was Elkhart, Indiana, to pick up their RV. Of course, every other place in the country would look better after seeing Indiana first.

He swung the Luxliner into the Ramada Inn lot, taking up thirty feet of the fire lane as he let off the brake to that satisfying hiss. He brought up his watch: Seven-thirty on the dot.

But no Morihita.

He wriggled down to make himself comfortable in the captains chair and counted his traveling money in his head. Two thousand from earlier in the day, plus the grand from Chunky Danand now the Japs would come through as they had for the past month, getting ready for the big summer traveling season by slapping down big bucks to rent giant coaches. Really, they were buying the RVs and selling them back as used after a summer of sightseeing, cause what the hell did the Japs need a coach for back in Tokyo or whatever? And really renting one would get you a second-rate vehicle for the same amount as buying a brand-new one and selling it back. This was Gordons grand plan, and it was working fine. Six coaches at just about three hundred grand apiece, and now this little beauty to Morihita for eighty

A rap at the window lifted Gordon out of his seat. Mr. Mitchell?

Mistuh Mitchurr? Gordon almost laughed. Fucking Japs.

He popped the door open and swung down, hand extended for immediate shaking. Mr. Morihita, please call me Ron. Ready for the summer of a lifetime? he said, slapping the side of the coach.

Morihita looked starched even in his red polo shirt and khaki slacks, but a smile broke across his stern features as he scanned the Luxliner. This is the vehicle we spoke about?

Thats rightthe Rambling Luxliner Junior. All the luxury and convenience of the Luxliner, butas you requestedeven easier to handle than our six-axle original Luxliner. Gordon could recite all of the pluses of the Junior over the original in his sleep, then turn around and list the pluses of the original over the Junior. All he had to do was keep talking. Eighty thousand dollars is quite the bargain for this, but I do like to cater to my Japanese friends.

Very good, Morihita said, and pulled out his checkbook. My family and I are looking forward to seeing the United—”

Wait! Gordon stepped forward, speaking before Morihitas pen could touch the paper. Cash only on these transactions, Mr. Morihita, please. Remember, that was part of the deal for the sales-return policy we discussed. My apologies.

Morihita stiffened, then slid the checkbook into his back slacks pocket. It is very difficult to bring that much currency into the United States, Mr. Mitchell.

Ron. Yes, I know, but—”

Ron Mitchell, what if I told you I did not have that much currency, because it would require declaration through United States Customs Department?

He was pulling the Customs routine? Everything swayed for a second, stopping just in time for Gordon to keep himself from falling over. He could feel pinpricks of sweat on his face, his arms, his back. It would be so easy for Dale to check Customs records for cash brought into the States, and it would be so easy to track that right down to the missing coaches …

Mr. Mitchell?

Nonchalantly, Gordon made a slight bow to his customer. Slight, but unmistakable. Then he said, Mr. Morihita, I would ask why you did not bring thousand-dollar bills, which your company can transfer to accounts in the U.S. through internal documentation. This would save you from having to declare the money, sir.

Morihitas lips pursed, and he nodded sternly at Gordon. And then he laughed, sweeping out an envelope fat with bills. You are a very smart salesman, Mr. Mitchell. Count thisyou will find eighty of those thousand-dollar bills.

Gordon counted. He found them. Youre good to go, Mr. Morihita. I got the faxed contracts back at the office, so theres nothing more to do except hop on that horse and ride, he said, and with a hearty cowboy smile gripped Morihitas hand and shook.

The Jap smiled too, and gave him a little bow of his own. Gordon chuckled, and hoped Morihita could at least see the rest of Indiana before the police took back the coach. Timothy pulled up in the Vacationeer, and Gordon hopped in and rode west, into the sunset.

5

Gordon dropped Timothy back at the lot, then popped across town and just sat in the Vacationeer, listening to the ten-CD system, grinning through narrowed eyes.

There had been some obstacles shoved in his way at the last minute, but, like the former football player he was, he finessed his way through what he could, then dropped his shoulder and rammed through the rest. Even though Morihita had given him the huge bills, useless for traveling money, he still had three grand in smaller denominations for trip expenses.

Time to celebrate.

He pulled the thirty-five-foot Vacationeer across six parking spaces of the Kitty Klub, Elkharts premier strip club and one Gordon knew well, intimately. This was his last night in the United States, his last chance to down a few and get laid, show what he was made of. After all, the giant bills werent totally useless.

Ever seen anything like this? he asked the brunette, who called herself Angie”—the chick had a name from a Stones song, that had to be a good omen. She came and sat on his lap, taking a look at the green piece of paper with a one and three zeros in each corner and Grover Cleveland right in the middle.

Is that for real? Her eyes went to the money but her arms stayed wrapped around him. She was firm. God, was she firm. A million-dollar bill?

Thousand. His prick was rising up against her firm, firm thighs as she sat on his lap. Just a thousand dollars.

Thats still a lot, Angie said, and whipped off her top just like that, bouncing her tan (and firm) breasts in Gordons face. They were so close he could smell his boozy breath bouncing off of them. You ever seen anything like these?

He had seen breasts like them in that they were bulbous and nippled, but never any so magnificent. Can I touch?

I dont think my boyfriend would like that.

He likes you sitting on mens laps with your tits in their faces?

Im mostly a dancer, she said, not answering the question. But that word hung in the air like a promise: Mostly. I got bills to pay.

Gordon wiggled the Cleveland. And Im here to help you pay em. She put her tan, firm breast in his fingers. Better than a handshake.

* * *

 The rest of Angie was just as firm and tan, the impossibly skinny strips of white where her bathing suit once lay against her just serving to enhance the effect. She was duly impressed with the Vacationeer, as it was one hell of an impressive machine, if Gordon did say so himself. Starting from the front, it had a dashboard like the cockpit of a 747, a nineteen-inch remote-control color television between two full-swivel captains chairs, a full-size sofa (available in over two hundred stain-resistant fabrics) and recliner, central roof-ducted air conditioning, full overlay cabinetry (available in three distinctive hardwoods), full-size bathroom with marble countertop and full shower, kitchen area with microwave, gas stove and oven, a dining room with seating for four, tons of basement storage space, and the pièce de résistancea huge bedroom with thirteen-inch TV, beveled mirrors, security safe, and more storage located underneath a full queen-size bed, the final thing Angie was impressed with as Gordon laid her down and started peeling her already slight clothing off of her.

Firm. Young and firm. To Wanda as day is to the dead of night.

Dead! He chuckled to himself.

She kissed him; it was a good kiss, full of interest and creativity. Gordon appreciated that and returned it with gusto. Her legs were spread up against his slacks and he liked that, too.

Ron, Angie said as she started unbuttoning his shirt, Ive really never seen one of those dollars before. Its really real, right? Not that Im doing this for the money.

Right. Dont worry, sweetheart, its real. You cant just spend it, though—”

What? Her legs slammed together like the covers of a book.

Wait! Gotta take it to a bank and let em exchange it for hundreds, thats all. Took it out of circulation, honey, thats all. Take it easy. Its good money. He eased her legs back apart and nestled himself between them.

Well, why do you have one?

Got more than one, sweetheart.

She unbuttoned him faster. Okay, but why?

See, I sell these beauties, he said, motioning at the gorgeous surroundings. This one would take three hundred of those bills you got there.

Thirty thousand dollars? Wow!

Whatever, he said, but dumb, beautiful women got his blood going. He was aching for this little sweetie. Point is, I deal in big, big amounts of cash. In fact, goin down to New Mexico tomorrow to get my hands on a huge stash. Jesuswhy was he telling her all this? Why did he have to blab to these chicks?

His pants were yanked off by Angie, who was now visibly excited. Oh yeah, thats why. Ill come with you, she said as she slid his jockeys down and off, leaving his member standing proudly, like the flagpole in front of Fort Knox.

Ooh, cant, honey, sorry. And he was. Gotta take the wife—”

He slapped his hand over his mouth. Fort Knoxs flagpole began to fly more at half-mast. Time stood still. Angie stared at him with an expression of growing bemusement. Wife, huh?

Got a boyfriend yourself, dont ya? He said in a were all in this together tone, not accusatory. Never make a sale that way.

I sure do, Ron, she said, and took him into her hands. Got another one of those million-dollar bills, dont ya?

He sure did.

Ecstasy. His last night on earth, his last night as a married man enjoying the fruits of another woman, his last night as a working stiff, couldnt have been better spent than in the arms of Angie, although her questions about the money and then his wife and then New Mexico lasted throughout the evening.

One day he would have to learn to keep his mouth shut around women, keep his damn trap shut and save himself a lot of trouble, but as long as the rewards of having a woman listen rapt to you and the costs so relatively small, he didnt know when that lesson would really be worth bothering with.

6

Wanda Polska Mitchell started wearing makeup when she was seven years old. She got into her mothers makeup case and became enthralled with the many colors, the different textures, the exotic names (Desert Bloom, Irish Rose) for different shades of pink and lavender, the way her mom would delicately apply just a bit of each to create a unique look for her fathers return home. Less is more, her mother would say when it came to makeup.

Her dad would come home, drop his case on the chair by the front door, and hold Wandas moms shoulders in his hands, drinking her in. Arent you beautiful? he would say, every day the same words, and give her a big kiss, smearing even the little bit of wonderful war paint, as he called it, but it didnt matter at that point. The effect had been created. Her mother had succeeded again.

Of course, when dad didnt come home one day, or the next, or the next, Wanda knew it wasnt just a business trip because her mother didnt constantly cry during those, didnt stop putting on her wonderful makeup even though dad wouldnt be walking through the door for a few days.

After a few weeks, Wanda and her little sister, Peg, learned the truth from her mother: Your fathers left us for his receptionist, for that made-up hussy.

Wanda didnt know what a receptionist was, nor a hussy, but she knew what made-up was. It meant his receptionist was more beautiful than Wanda or her momwore more makeup than did her mother, and was consequently that much more desirable.

It was a lesson well learned.

Wanda Polska started dipping into her mothers makeup case and coming out looking like a million bucks, right from the start. She had an intuitive knack for matching colors, textures, styles. She could just look at a fashion magazine and know how to apply every bit. Even if she did have a tendency to apply the makeup a little thick, more like an artist does to a canvas than a woman usually does to her face, the overall effects were still nothing short of stunning.

She did her mother from the time they moved from Elkhart to Bloomington (when she was seven, when her dad left) to the time she left to go back to Elkhart with her new husband, the dashing and promising Gordon Ron Mitchell. Her mother cried at the wedding, but her makeup stayed perfect. Wanda was a genius with mascara and eye shadow, everyone said in the 60s and early 70s, when more was better. She worked as a cosmetologist and beauty consultant, had lots of clients who were all very pleased and took her advice to heart, only applying the war paint (now Gordon called it that) a good deal less generously at home than Wanda did at the salon.

That was more than ten years ago, after Gordon started selling RVs at her uncles lot but before he became a big shot there. Before the other women, before the drinking with the other salesmen, before Wanda gave up and became a childless housewife. The good times.

Now, maybe the good times were back. Gordons little scam (not so little, reallyhe could end up put away for a long time; hell, they both could) had socked away over a million dollars in the past month. So what if it was from her uncle? She never cared much for him anyway, and the feeling was mutual, she knew.

Over a million dollars. Splitting it with him fifty-fifty (her price for flying the cash down to New Mexico and stuffing it in that safety deposit box for Gords contact to launder), she could finally get free of him and start her own life, her own salon even. Bring whatever family she wanted near down to South America.

Of course, Gordon would take his half and spend it on cheap bimbos (or not-so-cheap ones) and booze, like he had always spent their money. Which reminded her that she had one more job to do before she sent him packing in Mexico.

With that, she finished up her nap and got to work.

* * *

Two hours later, Wanda pulled the zipper closed on her fourth and final suitcase.  Gordon walked in, looking surprisingly alert and sharp considering the drinking and probable screwing she knew he was doing until ten at night.

I have more belongings than bags, she said, and crossed her arms.

Leave some belongings, then, Gordon said, and proceeded to grab his own packed suitcases. Dont care what you bring anyway.

No, Gordon.

Be happy, Wanda. This time tomorrow, were millionaires. Buy new stuff.

No.

He let out a sigh and put his own suitcases down. He was counting the minutes until she drew her last breath. Weve had ten months to plan this, dear. You saying you couldnt have gotten more bags before now?

I need more room. I dont have any of my cosmetology materials, none of my teaching stuff. Ive got to bring it, GordonI want to start up my own business again.

That junks fifteen years out-of-date, maybe more! Well buy more. Besides, Venezuelan women wear their war paint a little different than Americans. Lighter, for one.

I get more bags or Im not going.

Jesus! If anything, she had gotten more obstinate over the past year, as freedom approached. Like she wanted to get her last digs in before she died or something. In any case, he wasnt going to have her getting goofy on him.

He dumped his suitcases open on the floor. Clothes, aftershave, shoes in a heap. And on top of it, a bag, now spilled open, of thousand-dollar bills.

That aint the Racing Form, Wanda said with her trademark sneer, one reserved just for him. Is there something you want to share with me?

Something you wanna share with me? Gordon spat back. Got one last sale in last night. Tell you about it later.

She trudged over to him, arms still crossed. Now.

Just twenty or so more hours, he reminded himself. He could put up with it for twenty-five years, he could put up with it for one more day. What do you want? Made one last sale tonight, to another Jap. Eighty grand, cash money. I was gonna tell you.

My half. Now. The woman could bark orders. She stuck her hand out.

He slapped the bag in her hand. You hold onto it. Gesture of goodwill.

As he kicked as much of his stuff as he could into just one suitcase to leave the rest of them for Wanda, she began counting the bills one by one, finishing at seventy-eight. Theres two missing.

Gordon didnt know what to say. His silver tongue had tarnished to the point of uselessness with Wanda years ago.

Was she cute?

Firm, Gordon said, giving up.

Two thousand dollars worth of firm? You spend two thousand on a goddamn hooker?

He waved his hands at her. Listen, this moneys to grease the wheels for the trip. We get pulled over, some hick cop with a bug up his asstwo thousand bucks is nothing compared to what we got coming, get me? But it is enough to startle somebody into leaving us alone.

You didnt spend two thousand to get some slut to leave you alone, Gordon.

He stopped then and dropped his chin to his chest, turning all solemn on her. Leaving all that behind now, sweetheart. Last time, I swear to God.

Not terribly original, but the best he could do on the spot. When he sneaked a glance at her, however, he could tell right away she wasnt buying it.

You know, one time Id like to—” Wanda started, then stopped short as the doorbell rang. Someone was there. Someone who was not supposed to be there was there.

Quickly, Wanda hid the money as Gordon zipped downstairs, noticing they could still work as a team when they had to.

7

Lieutenant Detective Douglas Gann had been with the Elkhart, Indiana, Police Department for two years, since his graduation from the academy after graduate school. He had been assigned to the Mitchell case when he got a call three weeks earlier from Major Dale himself, owner of Major Dales RV World. (Major Dales makes Major Deals, the ad went.)

Dale knew who was stealing RVs from his lot and even knew how he was doing it. What he couldnt understand, he told Gann, was why his sales manager, Gordon Mitchell, was doing it. The man made eighty thousand dollars a year at least, sometimes more! The boys wifeDales niecewas, at forty-three, still a slim and beautiful woman. And Mitchell could look forward to being part-owner of the lot someday!

Major Dale told the detective all of this out of confusion and feelings of betrayal and despair. Gann understood that well enough. He had seen men with perfectly good jobs, even great ones; nice wives, even perfect ones; and promising futures, even sparkling ones, give it all up for what they saw as one big score, or what they saw as a better woman, or what they saw as a more worry-free future.

Gann didnt know if Gordon Mitchell had another woman on the side or if he needed the money for gambling debts or what, but he did know that after Dales call the night before telling him Mitchell was heading to New Mexico with his wife in tow, he knew Wanda Mitchells life was in serious danger.

Hed seen it before. A wife is a dangerous witness to leave behind, so the husband would plan a trip somewhere, turn on the romance, then kill the poor woman before skipping the country. He had definitely seen it before, especially in cases where, as Major Dale had told him on the phone, the magic had been gone for some time.

Poor Wanda probably didnt even know what her husband was mixed up in.

Lieutenant Detective Douglas Gann noted the beautiful bus-sized motor home parked on the street as he walked up to the house and rang the doorbell. Hed seen all this before.

* * *

Help you? Gordon asked with a smile, his head barely poking out of the cracked door.

Gann flashed his badge. Detective Doug Gann, Elkhart Police. Taking a trip?

Sell RVs. Thats a delivery.

Almost midnightseems kinda late to be heading out on a trip. Are you going on a trip, Mr. Mitchell? Gann asked, smiling to himself that he was using Mitchells name without the poor bastard knowing how he knew it.

Delivering the coach. Can I help you with something, Detective?

You havent answered me. Are you taking a trip or not?

Why? Listen, you know my name, you obviously know what delivering a coach is. What do you want?

Is your wife home, Mr. Mitchell? Or is she out delivering a coach?

Gordon cocked his head at Gann and took a slow drag on his cigarette. Home.

I need to speak to her.

Gordon Mitchell then gave Gann the most insincere smile he had ever seen. If this was the expression he used with his customers at Major Dales, it was a wonder the guy had ever had a job to steal from. This about those parking tickets? he asked with unconvincing jocularity. Ive told her a hundred times—”

Please bring Mrs. Mitchell to the door, Mr. Mitchell. Gann made no attempt at returning the smile Gordon was pitching at him, had no interest in buying whatever it was he was trying to sell. Or may I come in?

Ill bring her, Gordon said, and shut the door in Ganns face.

 * * *

She started as the door swung open. Its the police, Gordon said, out of breath from taking the stairs almost three at a time. Wants to talk to you.Wanda finished zipping up the last of the suitcases Gordon had dumped out for her. In one she had their dirty bedsheets; in another was all of their towels they didnt use anymore, except for company; and the last was filled with nothing at all, just an empty zipped-up suitcase. She smiled at the pile of personal effects Gordon had been forced to leave behind in giving her his share of the luggage.

She had to admit she was surprised by this, and then maybe a bit worried. Had her role in this somehow come uncovered? She was the one who took the money down to the safety deposit box in New Mexico every time, after allmaybe she had been caught on surveillance cameras!

Or maybe her son-of-a-bitch husband had turned on her to get out of having to pay her share of the money. But that wouldnt make any sense hed be out his money, too, and money was his prime motivating factor. Shed just be happy as long as Gordon was miserable. What with the trip approaching, it hadnt been easy being happy lately.

But the detective was waiting, and no matter what nasty surprise might be in store, she had to go down and face him. Let me just put a face on, she said.

She watched Gordon roll his eyes at her. He was such an asshole.

* * *

 Even though he was just in his late twenties, dark brown hair sometimes falling into his eyes and making him look like little more than a skinny kid of average height, Douglas Gann had seen all of this before. So he did exactly what he had done dozens, maybe hundreds of times in the past two years; he waited in a familys sitting room for someone to come down and talk with him. He fiddled with picture frames. He noted layers of dust behind things. He resisted the urge to plunk a few random notes on the piano. But mostly, he planned what he was going to say. He had waited downstairs to arrest people before, had waited downstairs to tell families their son or daughter, sister or brother, husband or wife had died in accidents, murders, suicides.

But never had he come to urge someone not to go on a vacation.

This was a first. It was also the first time he felt he could use his position as a police detective to directly save someones life. It was a nice feeling, one he got all too seldom on this job.

Officer?

He turned at the voice, a pleasant if flat female tone, and saw Mrs. Wanda Mitchell descending the stairs. For a forty-something woman, she was in good shape; she obviously spent time at the gym or doing stepercize or whatever. But her face Something seemed wrong with her face. She looked like a Kabuki performer, or the Joker from Batman. She was wearing the heaviest makeup of any woman he had ever seen, and that included burn victims.

But the shockthat long-forgotten shock of connectionhit Gann, and hit him hard.

Goodah, good evening, Mrs. Mitchell, sorry to be calling so late. Im Detective Doug Gann from the Elkhart Police. Is there somewhere private we can talk?

What about my husband? Her mouth looked so odd to him as she talked. The funny thing to Gann was that she actually looked very inviting still, like she was using the cosmetics to somehow accentuate Oh heck, Gann thought. I have no idea what Im talking about.

It has to be private, maam.

Is it about Gordon?

Im afraid it is, maam.

At that she smiled. And Gann could tell right away it wasnt fake. He followed her into the sun room and closed the door behind them.

* * *

Gordon busied himself with shoving everything he could into the basement storage of the Vacationeer. He took no time to admire the workmanship of the gliding compartment doors, the coordinated color scheme of the riveted fiberglass sidewalls with the stylish acrylic patio awning. He didnt think once of the interlocking, double-welded aluminum studs around the frame-mounted windows and doors or about the construction of the walls: one-piece high-gloss gel-coat fiberglass backed by an inch and a half of fiberglass insulation, a vapor barrier, three-quarters of an inch of bead-foam insulation, and a final layer of fine wood veneer paneling. All of this escaped his notice, although at any other time he might have stopped to savor their beauty.

Because his mind, in order not to freak out about Detective Ganns surprise visit, was focused squarely on the plan. He had worked the plan out in such perfect detail, not leaving a single element to chance, that once he got on the road, it ran virtually no risk of failure. He had the exact route picked out to his destination, which was Truth or Consequences, New Mexico, the town named after that game show. He would deliver three hundred thousand dollars worth of recreational vehicle in exchange for the wonderful banking services provided by his contact in that cozy little tourist town. He had every stop along the way picked for maximum visibility for Wanda and himselffor just this contingency of a cop wondering whats going on! He congratulated himself on that one.

He also had the exact spot where he would kill his darling wife of twenty-five long, wasted years picked out, and had had it picked out for ten months. The steepest drop off the most remote lookout on the road to T or C, as the locals called it. No one would find her body until he was ensconced snugly in Venezuela, collecting twenty percent on his full million and a half.

Again, the thought warmed him as he worked. He slid the hatches closed on the storage compartments (some of those bags had seemed pretty light) and gazed back at the house where Wanda was talking to Detective Needlenose, a house he would never see again.

A tiny yelp escaped his throat, but of joy or panic, he couldnt say.

* * *

 No ones gonna kill me, Mr. Gann. I can fend for myself.

Gann shook his head. Wanda, Im afraid thats not the case. I have seen this all before. Did you know anything about the thefts at your uncles RV lot?

Thefts? No, of course not, she lied.

Did you know your husband has purchased a single ticket to Caracas, Venezuela, from Mexico City? I have a friend who did me the favor of checking for any travel-related activity on Mr. Mitchells credit card. Gordon bought an airline ticket, a single ticket.

This was news. Just one?

Hes not taking you with him for the rest of his trip, Wanda. Hes visiting Venezuela alone.

II didnt even know there was a rest of the trip, she lied, at least remembering to do that as she reeled from what Gann was telling her. Why would he buy one ticket? Whats in, um, Venezuela?

They have no extradition treaty with the United States, Mrs. Mitchell. Andplease excuse me for saying thishe is trying to escape prosecution, maybe for crimes he hasnt even committed yet. Thats why Im here to try to persuade you not to accompany him on this road tripyoure not going as far as Gordon is, hes going to make sure of that.

A tiny, tiny smirk crossed Wandas lips, so small Gann might have mistaken it for a simple twitch if he had seen it. Son of a bitch wants a divorce, she thought with amazement. The insinuation the detective was making didnt make a whole lot of sensenot one bit of Gordons plan would have been possible without her. The lot was her uncles. She shuttled the money down to that weird little town in New Mexico. She covered for him constantly. The idea that her husband would want to kill hernot just want her dead, which she guessed all spouses wished for their partners occasionally, but to actually want to kill herskipped past her like a friends recipe suggestion for a dish to which she was deathly allergic. She gave it barely a first thought, let alone a second.

No, Wanda just let out a weary sigh and thought, The son of a bitch wants a divorce. He wants to leave me, after all Ive done for him. It was the only reasonable thoughthe was going to flee the country without her, let her face the music for what they together had done. What a guy.

Your life is in danger. Let me take you into protective custody. You shouldnt be traveling alone with Gordon Mitchell. Hes not the man you think he is.

You mean he doesnt screw around? she almost said, but thought the better of it. Best to have this young officer feeling like she herself thinks shes in the model marriage. She was far from any suspicion that way. Its hard to believe, Doug. I love my husband. And he loves me. He must just think I want him to drop me off at my sisters in Oklahoma City.

I know you love him, Wanda. If hes on the up-and-up, great; the worst is that we will have inconvenienced you for nothing. I know youre looking forward to this trip, but honestly, you could be in grave danger.

Young or not, he talked like what she guessed a regular police detective would, she had to give him that. Im going on the trip, she said at last.

Gann sighed. I had hoped I wouldnt have to use this, he said, reaching into his coat pocket.

Her heart jumped. She was under arrest! Her! Goddamn Gordon robs, cheats, screwsshes the faithful wife, and this is how things end up!

Gann took a folded piece of paper from his pocket and handed it to her. Its a subpoena for deposition in this case, Wanda. Im afraid were going to have to have you come in and tell us anything you might know about the thefts at your uncles lot.

When?

Next week, he said, and added, and I hate to say this, butthats only if youre still alive, of course. I have good reason to believe your husband will try to hurt or kill you on this trip and make it look like an accident, try to eliminate you as a witness.

Kill me? Wanda said with a laugh. Why would you believe something like that? Hes never so much as raised a hand to me.

Gann patted her on the shoulder. Wanda, I know its hard to accept, but Ive seen all of this before. This is how these things work, he said, and added emphasis with a nod. Now, are you sure theres nothing you might know that Gordon wouldnt want you telling us?

If you only knew. She nodded, looking appropriately regretful.

He nodded as well. Heres my card. Please call me if you change your mind, even on the road. Ill come. You have a cellular phone on that monster, right?

And fax, and satellite TV.

Great. I hope you enjoy them, Gann said, but she could tell he wished she wouldnt get near the coach at all. Call me.

Thanks. She hesitated. Um, DetectiveI have to ask: If youre so sure hes going to do something bad, or that he did something bad, why dont you just arrest him?

Gann cleared his throat. Your uncle …”

Dale?

He wont move forward unless youve got immunity to testify. Would you like immunity? Gann said this very slowly, not looking her in the eye.

Wanda stared at the floor. For months she had dreamed of her and Gordon, on the beach, without the worries that had fucked up their marriage for so long. She wanted to make him pay for all the shit he had done to her, but there was still a chance to work things out, wasnt there?

Finally she said, I told you, DetectiveI dont know about any thefts. Gann looked at her again and nodded. They rose and she showed him to the door, closing it behind him. She leaned up against it and let all of her air out.

Detective Gann seemed like an earnest and nice young guy. She had been attracted to him; it was obvious he had been attracted to her. But he was way off-base about everythingalmost everything. He wouldnt be much of a worry.

She had heard Gordon come back into the house and wondered if he had eavesdropped on any of the conversation. Gord! A word with you! she yelled up the stairs.

He wasnt going to like this, and that was just fine. Lieutenant Detective Douglas Gann had just put a very powerful weapon in her hand, one she intended to use to its full squirm factor on her husbandsoon to be her ex-husband? Shed rather be dead than go through the embarrassment of a divorce, be left like her mother was.

Not so fast, she said with a smile, and held up the subpoena. Its time to take another look at our arrangement.

8

Detective Gann was thankful Class A touring motor homes were so darn big. If they werent, he wouldnt have been able to climb up on the side of the RV opposite the house and slap a transmitter at the base of the Mitchells cellular antenna without anyone seeing a thing, under cover of the near-midnight darkness.

He stepped back, satisfied with his work. Whenever the Mitchells used their phone or faxactually, as long as the cellular antenna was powered up, which was probably whenever the vehicles battery was charged, their global positioning system would send a signal that gave the coachs location, a signal Gann could access and decipher with his new department-owned laptop. It was a system used mainly for tracking stolen carsGann was sure there was an on-demand system inside for the rich retirees who bought these things, maybe with a backup too that could be tracked with an access number known only to the owner and the Rambling company but tracking the Mitchells seemed to Gann like the perfect use of a system meant to stop crime.

Gordon Mitchell would not get away with whatever it was he planned on doing. And Gann certainly was not about to let him kill his beautiful and charming wife.

9

Thats right, jerk-off, Wanda said. Sixty-forty or Im talking to the cops.

Dont do this. Were almost home-free.

Free? Thats a word youre not going to know for a while if you dont stop being so cheap.

Giving you nearly a million dollars already is cheap? Get a subpoena and you think you own me, Wanda? Theres nothing you can say that wont point a finger back at you, babe.


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