Stan gets out, taps on the door, three distinct times.
Finally the door opens.
“Took you so long, babes?”
Derrick, standing in the dark open door, thumbs jammed inside his leather utility belt.
“We got the tool boxes,” Stan says.
“And I’ve got the casheshe,” Derrick says. “Lots of it.”
“Bingo,” Stan says.
We enter into the facility, looking like two electrical workers.
“Everybody,” Derrick shouts, “these men are going to restore our power for us. Can we give them a welcoming hand?”
The only light in the joint are the battery powered exit signs mounted over every door in the big auditorium. Derrick has a flashlight on him and he scans the many faces of all the old people seated at the dozens of round tables, many of them in wheelchairs, others in chairs, their walkers positioned beside them. A few have canes leaning against the table or attached to their chair-backs like candy canes. Then there’s the few lucky souls who can still manage to walk without the help of an apparatus.
They clap for us, like we’re the evening’s entertainment.
“Let me show you something, gentlemen,” Derrick says. “Up on stage.”
Apparently, the Bingo game is run from a long booth set up on stage at the far end of the auditorium. The booth is supposed to be lit up with hundreds of colorful bulbs and a big HDTV that flashes the Bingo numbers as they come up. Of course there’s a big pumpkin sized cage device that spins around and around with a whole bunch of numbered yellow balls inside it. It’s attached to a suction tube that sucks up the winning ball. Hopefully the ball that will give you Bingo!
There’s also a sound system and a microphone set on a stand.
When we come to the stage we go around the back of the Bingo setup. That’s when Derrick turns to us. He cocks his head in the direction of four, attache-like cases that at present are unlocked and opened. Each one of them contains stacks of cash.
“Eleven thousand and change, babes,” he whispers. “These old folks don’t just settle for a few hundred dollars at the end of Bingo night. They let the pots ride until they become big money. Tonight, we’ve got ourselves big money.”
My stomach sinks.
“That’s it?” I ask. “Eleven grand?”
“There he goes again being negative,” Stan says.
“That’s one of the biggest pots we’ve ever had,” Derrick says.
“If we divide three ways, it means I just lost my job for what, about thirty eight hundred.”
Stan’s face goes tight.
“I told you from the get go that the take would be anywhere from ten to twenty K. So let’s fill up the toolboxes and get the hell out of here before the police and the firemen come.”
For a brief second, I think about maybe robbing these old people, one by one. But then knowing how long that might take, and how little they probably have on their person, the effort won’t be worth it. But there is one thing I can do to maximize my take on this train wreck. I can figure out a way to steal all the money for myself.
“You’re right, Stan,” I say, planting a smile on my face. “I’ve been very negative. From now on, I’m Mr. Positive. Let’s grab the dough and consider ourselves lucky.”
“Now that’s the spirit, Tone!”
We transfer the money to the yellow toolboxes under the cover of darkness. We pack them tight. When it’s all done, we each lift our respective box.
“See yah outside, Derrick,” Stan says.
“Be right there,” he says. “Have the van running, babes.”
“If he calls me babe again,” I say, “I’m gonna kick him in the nuts.”
“He’d probably like that,” Stan says.
We descend the short stage staircase to the auditorium floor, and walk along the perimeter towards the metal door we entered through. My eyes have adjusted to the darkness and I can see the many old people now, just staring at us while we casually walk with our toolboxes in hand. Sad, old faces. Faces that were once young and vibrant, but that now, look close to death. It’s a sad sight to see. I almost feel badly knowing I’m taking their Bingo money. But hey, like they say, all’s fair in love and war and easy money. And just like Derrick said, there’s no employees to be seen since they’re all tending to the more fragile, bed ridden people who require electricity to survive.
But then something else catches my eye. Something sticking out of Stan’s box. It’s a bill. A twenty dollar bill. When he goes to place his hand on the door opener, the little bit of light that radiates from the battery operated EXIT sign shines on the bill. I see an old man seated at the round table closest to the door raise up his hand, make a fist.
“Hey, young man,” he says, his old grumpy face now a mask of concern. “You got something sticking out of your box.”
Stan gazes down at the bill. It looks like it’s trying to crawl out of the toolbox. Escape it.
“Oh, gee,” he says, “thanks old timer. I sometimes carry my money in my toolbox. You know, to keep it safe.”
“Never heard of such a thing,” the old man says, his voice dry and wobbly. He’s shaking his fist and gazing at the others seated at his table. Another old man, and three old women. “Any of you ever heard of keeping your cash in a toolbox?”
“Not me, Walt,” says the second man. He’s tall, and skinny, and black, his curly hair white.
“Me neither, Sammy.”
Stan gives me a look like we’d better get the hell out of here before they ask any more questions. He tries to turn the knob in the door. He turns it one way and another.
“Crap,” he says. “It must have locked automatically.”
I feel a wave of cold run up and down my spine. I turn towards the stage, look for Derrick. He’s nowhere to be found.
“We’ll have to go through the front door,” I say.
“With all these old people watching us?” Stan says.
“Got a better idea?”
He shakes his head, bites down on his lip. Turning, he starts walking towards the front door. But that’s when he trips on Sammy’s walker. Stan goes down onto his chest, the toolbox hurled forward, the lid opening, and thousands of dollars of BINGO cash spilling out onto the floor.
I feel my heart jump into my throat.
The whole place goes stone stiff.
Suddenly, a white beam of flashlight shines onto the spilled cash.
“Everyone relax,” Derrick says from the stage where he’s reappeared. “The workers were just taking our cash to a safe place now that the power is out. You wouldn’t want anyone stealing it now, would you?”
That’s when Walt shoots up out of his chair, his cane in hand. He’s old, but he’s tall, and wiry, with a bald head.
“Bullshit!” he barks. “This is a robbery is what this is.”
Sammy bounds up. He turns, his walker gripped in both hands. He rushes me like an old but angry bull. I don’t have time to react, the old guy is so quick. He nails me square in the chest with the walker, and I go down onto my back. My eyes wide open, I sense the entire auditorium rising up out of their seats. They issue a collective roar. Stan screams like a girl. Derrick cries out something that sounds like, “Mother have mercy!” I turn onto my stomach, and with the toolbox still in hand, begin crawling on all fours away from the angry mob, until something hard and heavy comes down on the back of my head and…
When I come to, I’m seated on the stage. I know this because I’m looking out onto the auditorium floor. The mob of old people are once again seated in their wheelchairs and chairs. Glancing out the corners of my eyes, I can see that I’m bookended by both Stan and Derrick. We’ve been duct taped to the chairs, our wrists clasped together behind our backs, our ankles taped to the chair legs. I can’t move if I want to.
I can’t see my face, but it hurts. My lips are swelled and I taste blood in my mouth. I’m having trouble focusing, like I’ve taken more than one blow to the head. I hear footsteps on the stage. I make out old man Walt. He’s coming towards us, his cane gripped in one hand and Derrick’s flashlight in the other.
“The court of the Anne Lee Home for the Elderly and Infirmed is now in session,” he shouts.
Everyone claps and howls.
“These men you see here today have been accused of stealing our precious Bingo night money!” Walt goes on. “How do you plead, men?”
“I didn’t do it,” Stan says.
“Walter, baby,” Derrick says, his eyes filled with tears. “This has all been a terrible mistake. Let us go so we can get the electricity back on.”
“Too late for that!” Walt barks, shining the flashlight on dozens of angry old faces. “Ain’t it folks?”
They erupt with, “Too late! Too late! Too late!”
It’s a fucking geriatric mob scene.
“Moving right along folks, cause none of us have as much time as we used to, as judge and jury, I find you three palookas guilty of robbing us senior citizens blind.” Once again, looking out onto the crowd. “What kind of sentence shall we lay on these awful youngsters?”
Everyone who can, rises up, fists waved in the air.
“Crucify them! Crucify them! Crucify them!”
“Now, now, settle down,” Walt insists. “We can’t exactly nail them to the walls. But we can make sure they never steal from anyone again.” He thinks about it for a moment. Then, a terrible grin paints his face. “I’ve got it. How about we cut off their sticky little fingers. That’ll teach them never to steal again!”
The crowd roars with excitement.
“In fact,” Walt adds, “we can play Finger Bingo. We’ll play with the balls marked one through ten. One digit per finger.”
That’s when Sammy appears, using his walker to gain access to the Bingo platform. He opens the Bingo cage, removes all the balls expect for the ones marked one through ten.
“We don’t need the suction pipe,” Sammy says. “I can close my eyes and reach in and grab a ball all on my own.”
“That’s the cat’s meow, Sammy,” Walt says. “But first I need something that will cut off a finger.”
He looks around. But looks no further than Derrick’s utility belt. He’s got a pruner holstered on his belt.
“Oh fuck me,” Derrick says, as Walt approaches him, steals the pruner.
“You hush with them bad words, son.” He holds up the pruners. The crowd roars with delight. “Sammy, if you will please do the honors.”
Sammy places his hand on the Bingo cage, gives it a spin. Stopping it, he reaches inside chooses a ball.
“Number three!” he barks
“Number three, folks!” Walt shouts. “That would be the middle finger. Now, who gets to have his middle finger cut off?” He turns to us, starts reciting, “Eeny Meeny Miny Moe. Catch a filthy robber by the middle finger…”
“I don’t fucking believe this,” Stan says. “Tell me I’m in a nightmare. Wake up, Stan. Wake the fuck up.”
“Eeny, meeny, miny, moe,” Walt finishes, while pointing the pruners at Stan. “Looks like you’re it, young man.”
“Noooo!” Stan screams. He’s crying now too, struggling to free himself.
Even surrounded by darkness, the crowd is electric, stomping their feet, chanting, “Cut it off! Cut it off! Cut it off!”
Walt sets the flashlight onto the Bingo table, goes around Stan’s back. I see it all happening as plain as day since my chair is set further back than the other two. I see Walt open the pruners, set the steel blades over the middle finger on his Stan’s right hand. Then, squeezing pruner handles together, he cuts. I make out the distinct and sickening sound of bone snapping in half and Stan’s finger drops onto the floor like a dog turd. Walt bends over, grabs the digit, holds it up for the crowd to see. They go crazy, the entire building trembling with applause and excitement.
Stan leans forward and pukes. Derrick is crying his eyes out. I feel like the ground has opened up beneath me and I’m about to fall into a bottomless pit.
“Another number, my good man, Sammy.”
“Don’t mind if I do, Walter.”
The tall black man spins the case, reaches in, comes out with a ball.
“Number one!” Sammy barks.
The crowd goes wild.
Walt does that Eeny Meeny Miny Moe thing again, and this time, lands on Derrick.
“No please, please,” the gay man pleads. “I thought we were friends.”
“Now, now, Derrick,” Walt says, placing the cutters on Derrick’s left thumb. “I’ll go with the odd hand since you don’t use it as much. Ready?”
Derrick screams so loud it rattles my bones. But when Walt snips and the thumb drops to the wood floor, the Bingo Night MC passes out. Like a man year’s younger, Walt retrieves the digit, holds it over his head. It’s like the Roman Forum from two thousand years ago, the screams and cheers so loud I can’t hear myself think.
“One more, Sammy!”
Sammy spins and it’s a five.
“No Eeny Meeny’s this time, folks,” Walt says. “I think it’s only fair we give the third asshole his due. Whaddaya say?”
“Cut it off!” the people shout. “Cut it off! Cut it off!”
He comes to me, not bothering to use his cane.
“I’m not gonna lie to you, fella,” he says through a beaming smile. “This is gonna hurt like a motherfucker. Trust a man who was tortured by the Japs in Burma.”
I’m so scared I feel like I’m having an out of body experience. Only I’m still in body, and I can feel everything, especially when he places those pruner blades around my pinky finger. I close my eyes, wait for it.
But there comes a loud bang and the auditorium lights flash back on. Doors burst open and a dozen blue uniforms fill the joint, their weapons drawn, aimed for Walt and Sammy.
“Get away from that man!” the lead cop shouts. “Get away or we will fire on you!”
I feel the squeeze of the pruners and I’m sure the digit is toast. But then the tool releases and I make out the sound of the pruners dropping to the wood floor.
I inhale some much needed oxygen into my lungs. But the relief is short lived when the cops begin cutting us away from the chairs and replacing the duct tape with handcuffs. Correction. I’m handcuffed while EMTs try and stop Stan and Derrick from bleeding to death.
While the cops lead me out to the car, I pass by the table where Walt and Sammy are now once more seated, the expressions on their faces like scolded school kids. The same table by the back door where I first laid eyes on them. They are handcuffed but otherwise going nowhere. I happen to make eye contact with Walt as the door opens, and the cop grabs hold of my arm.
“You cheating son of a bitch,” Walt says. “What made you think you could get away with cheating us out of our Bingo night?”
“Seemed like a good idea at the time,” I say.
“So did World War Two,” he says.
The cop leads me outside into the cold of the night. Headlamps on a dozen cop cars and an EMT van light up the night. From where I’m standing I can see a repair truck from the electric company parked by the busted poll, a team of hard hatted workers working on the restoring the power. I also make out Anny and my fat boss, standing near the lead cop.
“That’s him, officer,” Anny says, brushing back her beautiful blonde hair. “He’s the son of a bitch who tied us up and stole our vehicles.”
“I intend to press full charges,” my boss adds.
The cop leads me to the nearest police cruiser, shoves me into the backseat, closes the door, hard.
The cop behind the wheel throws the tranny in drive, and pulls away from the old folks home.
“Stealing from poor innocent old folks,” he says, into the rearview. “You should be ashamed of yourself.”
“Those old folks are killers,” I say. “Barbarians, I tell you.”
“Some attitude you have, pal. Those poor folks are fragile. With all that excitement, you could have stopped their hearts. You might have killed them.”
I recall the angry mob scene in my mind, recall the sound an amputated finger makes when it falls to the floor. Nightmares will plague me for months. Years.
“Take me away from this hell, Officer,” I say. “Take me to jail where it’s safe.”
BIO: Winner of the 2015 PWA Shamus Award and the 2015 ITW Thriller Award for Best Original Paperback Novel for MOONLIGHT WEEPS, Vincent Zandri is the NEW YORK TIMES, USA TODAY, and AMAZON KINDLE No.1 bestselling author of more than 25 novels including THE REMAINS, EVERYTHING BURNS, ORCHARD GROVE and THE CORRUPTIONS. A freelance photo-journalist and the author of the popular “lit blog,” The Vincent Zandri Vox, Zandri has written for Living Ready Magazine, RT, New York Newsday, Hudson Valley Magazine, The Times Union (Albany), Game & Fish Magazine, and many more. He lives in Albany, New York.