New Britain

        Scouring the real estate ads in the Herald gave Al a headache.  There were houses for sale but none of them fit his needs exactly.  He needed a place that was located in a part of town that felt right.  There were places in Farmingdale, but they were nightmares.  Built cheap and fast they went up for sale as soon as the owners realized that the repairs would never stop.  One ad caught his eye.  A Cape Cod on Hutchins Street.  For sale by owner, that meant they wanted out and didn’t want to share any of the proceeds with a realtor.  He’d check it out.  He dressed and finished his coffee.  The drive out to the house was a tour of a part of town that used to be acre sized gardens that were owned by immigrants who rented and spent their spare time growing tomatoes and peppers.  The neighborhood abutted a housing project but was well kept and showed no signs of ragged edges of homeowners who gave up and let their houses go to pot.  He found the house.  It was on a good-sized plot, maybe an acre with tall pines running along the border of the neighbor.  The sign by the curb said, For Sale by Owner and gave a phone number 555-3579.  Al wrote it down and drove up the street.  A house at the junction of Hutchins and Lamont had a cruiser parked in the driveway.  A neighborhood cop that explained the neatness of the yards.  He was a dam that kept the undesireables from the projects from running down the neighborhood.  Perfect, it was exactly what he wanted.  He’d find J.D. and prep her for a visit to their new home and he’d call the owners.

         J.D. was at the Cameo.  She was chatting up a guy with a wad of bills on the bar and a bottle of Bud in his hand.  She was leaning in, listening to every word he said.  Al climbed onto a stool and ordered a bourbon and soda.  The bartender put up the drimk and looked Al in the eye.

        “Fat Pauley was in today.  He left a message for you and I quote, ‘Have the two large you owe me tommorrow or Jerzy will have a chat with you’ ”

          “Damn, I knew there was something I had to do today.”  Al knew what the bookie meant.  No excuses, just cash.  He downed the drink and tossed a five on the bar.  On the way out he stopped by J.D.’s stool.   Sotto voce he told her “Be here tommorrow, I need to talk with you.  Be here at one.”

         He jogged out to his car and drove to the bank branch in the plaza.  He made out a withdrawl slip and handed it to the teller.  She counted out twenty hundreds after getting the bills she needed from the other tellers.  Al stuffed the wad into his wallet and walked out to his car.  He got in and sat there.  So much to do.  He had to slow down a bit because he’d screw up if he let things get away from him.  He drove home with a quick stop at Burger King.  By the time he was in his apartment he had the spiel for the homeowners.  He ate the burgers and sat.  He knew the whole thing depended on him getting the call right.  He had to convince himself that he was going to buy the house before he could convince the homeowners that he was legit.  He pressed the first number.  Then he pushed the others.  The phone rang.  A voice came on the line.

        “Hello” Al noted the voice gave nothing away, age, nationality, nothing.

        “I’m calling about your house.  I noticed it this afternoon.  Could I set up a time to see it.”

         “Mister?”

         “Hawes, Woodrow Hawes.  My wife and I have decided that we need a change.  Apartment living is getting a tad old.  We need a move to the suburbs.  We’ve got a ten year old and he needs space to grow.”

         “When would you like to drop by?”

         “This is Monday, the wife has grocery shopping tommorrow.  How does Wednesday sound?”

         “After noon?”

         “Yeah, maybe around two.”

         “That sounds fine.  See you then.”

         “Goodbye.”  Click, call over.

          On Tuesday Al spent time cleaning and getting ready for the meeting with J.D..  He had to impress on her the various little things that would sell the con.  She could talk a drunk out of his paycheck but this was serious money.  By the time came to leave he’d prepped enough he was sure she’d go along.  He drove to the Cameo.  She was sitting at the bar nursing a drink.  Cowboy boots, jeans and western shirt, that wouldn’t do.  He sat next to her and ordered a beer for himself and one for her.  He looked in the mirror behind the bar at his reflection.  Looking at the both of them sitting there they looked like a couple.  He looked like a guy who got lucky with a high school sweetheart.  She had enough age on her to make it work.  “Let’s get a booth.” He said.

            “Okay, what’s the deal Al?”

            “Tommorrow we’re going to look at a house.”

             ” Why?”

            He explained the con and her part in it.  He left out the blow off, where he took the money and ran.  She didn’t need to know that.  It might make her skittish.  He told her what he wanted her to look like.  Plain white blouse, slacks and no boots.  The whole thing took an hour, she’d had two more drinks and was losing patience.  He didn’t push it.  She got up to leave and told him she’d need lunch before they visited the house.  Al climbed onto an empty stool.  Without a sound he found Jerzy sitting next to him.  He was amazed how quietly the man moved.  He looked right.  The back booth was occupied by Fat Pauley.  He was smiling.  Al slid off the stool and walked to the booth.  He now knew how those people who were going to meet the king felt, especially if they were about to lose their heads.  He pulled the envelope out of his jacket pocket and put in on the table.  Pauley slid it to his side of the table and pocketed it.  “Aren’t you going to count it?”  “No, if it’s short you’ll know.”  Al walked back to the bar and finished his beer without sitting down.  He walked out of the bar and drove home.  He noticed his hands were shaking as he drove.