A suitcase of money rested in the floor of Skip’s Cadillac. He neither liked having the contents of the suitcase in his possession or what the money represented.
It was a million and a half dollars, all in cash.
“Who does that?” He asked himself. “Who does that in 2018?”
Just drug dealers and gun runners, Skip thought. He hadn’t taken cash in that amount in over 20 years. Electronic banking made that so much easier. It was simpler simple to route funds from one encrypted off-shore bank account to another and then another and another to make the money just cease to be.
The $25,000 meeting fee was only to gauge how serious a potential client was. A dabbler or a dilettante would never throw money on someone like him. A miser or a skinflint, who could not be trusted to pay what was owed, would never agree to a fee for only conversation.
Ben Gardner was something else. He seemed giddy that Skip only wanted 1.5 million dollars for the job, which made Skip want to come up with a higher figure, but no, a million and a half was high for what Mr. Gardner wanted, though Skip knew with additional expenses it could theoretically become higher.
Honestly, if Skip wanted to, he could milk the millionaire for another million and a half without even trying that hard, but he was fiscally responsible. Also, what he did seldom cost as much as people imagined. Witnesses, “experts” and public officials could usually be bribed for pennies on the dollar. Intimidation, arson and blackmail seldom cost more than a little time, a little patience and whatever gasoline was going for on a particular day.
Spreading rumors cost almost nothing and bullets were very cheap.
Still, Skip never meant to deal strictly in cash. That was bad business.
Carrying it around in the open was a liability. It risked unwanted attention. While it was unlikely that he would be pulled over by a police officer, since he was white, middle-aged and drove a car usually reserved for people with good legal representation, it would be difficult to explain the money away if his vehicle was searched.
Sometimes, the police liked to poke around nice vehicles driven by boring Caucasian men if only to make it appear that they were being fair.
Skip didn’t worry about the police finding his gun. He had a concealed carry permit and a laminated NRA member card he kept in his wallet, along with a folded-up copy of the bill of rights. This usually explained why he had the gun and tended to warn whoever was looking at his identification what was coming if they didn’t just hurry this up and let the nice man get on with his day.
With his out-of-state plates, Skip had been pulled over a few times, but he’d only had to give an impromptu lecture on constitutional law once. The officer listened for five minutes before rolling his eyes and telling him to “drive safe and have a good day.”
He really didn’t like having the money with him.
While it wasn’t likely, he could be robbed. That sort of thing happened. A couple of low-level punks could show up with guns and try to take the briefcase from him.
Skip felt confident of his chances if it was just one or a couple of attackers and they were only armed with knives, sticks or broken bottles, he supposed. He trained to handle that sort of thing, had handled that sort of thing in South America and in Africa, but a man with a gun, that was tricky. It all came down to how committed the other man was.
Skip had two scars on his abdomen where men had been very committed to getting their way. They just hadn’t been committed to being good shots.
Luckily, he wouldn’t have to keep it long. He had a banker in Cleveland who could help him get the money where it needed to be. Skip planned to be in the man’s office, first thing Monday morning, the soonest anything could be done.
This did delay his trip home another day, an aggravation, which was also time to think: did he really want to do this job?
Skip had no illusions about the things he’d done over the years. He’d helped topple democratically elected officials in places where it wasn’t convenient to the interests of his employers. He’d rigged elections, chased people off their legally owned property and straight-out killed half a dozen men.
Most of those killings had been political in nature. They’d been office-holders or militants who lived in places where being killed for your political leanings wasn’t unheard of, was actually very possible. They knew what they were in for and probably weren’t angels.
A few of the other deaths he’d had some hand in weren’t so easy to distance himself from. They were just people, not bad people, maybe not good people, but just collateral damage. They’d been in the way of something.
Always, always Skip had aligned himself with people and organizations that shared most, if not all, of his core values. He believed in liberty, the free market, American exceptionalism and manifest destiny.
Strength was a responsibility. It meant doing what needed to be done because it needed to be done. It meant taking charge and living with the outcome.
What Mr. Gardner wanted him to do burrowed under his skin. It was upsetting the natural flow of things in a way that he found distasteful.
Gardner did not know that the people on the list were going to become a threat to his snowflake political leanings. He just wanted to make sure they never did.
It also didn’t help that Skip was pretty sure that whatever thought or motivation passed through Mr. Gardner’s mind on practically any subject was diametrically opposed to the thoughts and motivations he had.
“Stupid hippie,” he muttered at the briefcase.
Skip did not want this job. He hadn’t wanted this job when he got in his car nearly a week ago and made the drive from California to West Virginia. He wanted nothing to do with Benjamin Gardner and whatever fringe of the Democratic party he represented.
But he did need the money.
What was in that briefcase would go a long way to digging his family out of the current messes they’d found themselves in. Back home in California, he needed to bribe a drug dealer, fix some charges and enroll his son in a residential rehab program. He needed to make the would-be puppeteer/girlfriend of his middle child quietly go away.
And who knows what was going to happen with those stupid cherry trees out back.
Plus, he had a mortgage to pay, bills that needed tending to and a future to plan for. What would his family do without him?
Skip needed to think, so he got in his car and decided to just drive around for a while. It wasn’t like he was in any kind of hurry. He couldn’t do anything with the money until Monday morning. It was Saturday night. There had to be something he could do in this town, but with a million and a half dollars to babysit, he couldn’t think of a thing that made sense, except drive.