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I've been a house painter, dishwasher, broiler cook, private detective, military intelligence analyst, and I spent nearly 40 years as a reporter covering crime, 26 of them for the San Francisco Chronicle. These days I write science fiction, fantasy, horror and crime fiction, and I blog about books, films and crimes that don't receive sufficient attention from the mainstream media. I would like to be Elmore Leonard, Raymond Chandler, Ross MacDonald, Dashiell Hammett or George V. Higgins, but all of them are dead so I'll just stick with what I am already doing. . .

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Nicky's Deal

An Excerpt from Bottom Street, a novel in progress

By Bill Wallace

Nicky Dolman might have been stupider than a bedful of cracker crumbs but his lack of mental horsepower didn’t keep him from being ambitious. He wanted to call his own shots so when he cooked up the tool trailer job he pulled in Ray Campos and LaVonne Walker but didn’t say a word to Eli or Bosco, the actual leaders of the Bottom Street crew.

“It can’t miss,” Nick said as he bought Ray and LaVonne drinks at the Blue Door. “We just pull the bobtail up to this trailer, hook her up and wheel her out. Piece of fucking cake.”

“How do we get in where this trailer at?” LaVonne asked. He thought the basic plan had promise, but he was automatically skeptical of anything Dolman said. Nick Dolman couldn’t find his way out of a phone booth with a roadmap and a compass so if he was pitching a moneymaking scheme, LaVonne figured it was a good time to keep his hand on his billfold.

“LaVonne’s got a point, Nick,” Campos said. “You said this trailer full of power tools is behind a cyclone fence that’s chained and padlocked. How do we get inside?”

Nick sighed. He hated to let LaVonne and Ray in, but they were the only guys lower on the Bottom Street food chain than him. Even Bagwell, the college kid that scammed office equipment by pretending to be a repairman, got more props than Nick, Ray or LaVonne—and Bags wasn’t even part of the crew.

“Look guys,” he said patiently. “It’s a trailer full of construction tools: power saws, drills, what they use to build stuff. It’s inside a fence where they’ve been putting up all those new condos this side of Concord. The fence just has a chain locked on the gate. I got a bolt cutter that’ll get through it in a New York minute. We go in, hook the trailer up to the truck, then rock and roll.”

He spread his hands, palms up, to show how easy it would be. “That’s all there is to it,” he said confidently.

LaVonne was still skeptical. “Man, I don’t know,” he said. “What you think these tools are worth?”

Nick was ready for that one. He pulled out a newspaper ad for a discount tool outlet in Newark, south of Oakland, and stood up to point out various items to Ray and LaVonne.

“This is a cut-rate outfit that sells a lot of cheap gear,” he said. “But even they are charging like $50 for a good power drill, $65 for this saw here, and look at this compressor—they’re asking nearly two grand for it!”

“What the fuck’s a compressor?” LaVonne asked, furrowing his brow. “How you use something like that on a construction job?”

“How the hell would I know?” Nick asked angrily. “Do I look like a construction expert?”

“Hey, guys, let’s be nice,” Campos said soothingly. “What’s this thing here?” he added, pointing at one of the devices on the cluttered advertisement.

Nick sat back down with a grin. “One of them boxes you can roll around with drawers for putting tools in,” he said. “They want 250 bucks for the son-of-a-bitch. Man, I’m telling you guys, this is gonna be like taking off a bank, only without guards or dye-pack. We can probably sell all this shit to that Chinaman in Oakland, the guy who loaned Eli and Bosco all the stuff for that big office scam they ran.”

“Mr. Chan?” Campos said. “I’m not sure he fences this blue collar junk. I don’t remember anything but office stuff in that big warehouse of his.”

Nick shrugged to show indifference. “If he don’t want it, he can probably tell us where to unload it,” he said.

“It best be someplace where they don’t care how old stuff is,” LaVonne said sarcastically. “I hear Chan pay top dollar for the shit he buy but he want it like fresh off the showroom floor. This stuff you talking about going to be hella rasty and beat up, man: tools people been using on they jobs, with all kinda dings and scratches and dirt. Even if we can unload power tools onto Chan, he ain’t going to want no funky old bullshit that’s past its prime.”

Dumb fucking nigger, Nick thought. You think you’re so smart with all your questions and bullshit. He didn’t say it, though. He really needed a crew for this job, not just for practical reasons but because he wouldn’t be a real shot-caller unless there was somebody there to follow his orders. He couldn’t afford to alienate the only two crooks he had done any business with since he got out of the federal slammer. So instead of telling LaVonne to fuck himself, which would blow the whole deal, he decided to play it cagy.

“Hey, if you don’t like the job, that’s fine with me,” he said, raising his hands, palms out. “I’m sure I can line up some other guys who are interested in easy money.” He drained his beer and stood up to leave.

“Hey, now—wait a minute,” Ray said, giving Nick the stop sign. “Don’t be so hasty.” Turning to LaVonne he added: “Come on, man, we could use some dough. I already blew what we got from Eli and Bosco for breaking down that office after the start-up scam. I got rent due and I can’t sweet-talk my landlady again. I gotta score some cash pretty soon or she’ll throw my ass out on the street.”

LaVonne rolled his eyes in exasperation but Nick knew he would cave; Walker didn’t like Dolman but he was sitting here drinking his beer and tolerating his company. Nick could think of only one plausible reason: he was just as broke as Campos.

“Aight,” LaVonne said finally. “I’m in, but this seem like a fucked-up deal to me.” He nodded at Dolman. “I don’t think Professor Moriarty here thought this job through too well and I bet something going to come back and bite us in the ass down the road. But I’ll play—until the shit hit the fan. Then I’m out of here so fucking fast it make your head spin.”

Nick grinned triumphantly.

“So, when we going to bag this trailer?” Campos asked, taking a sip of beer.

Nick’s face clouded. “Uh, any time now,” he said.

“How about tomorrow?” LaVonne asked.

Nick shook his head. “No, we can’t do it tomorrow,” he said. “I’ll have to pick a time and then get back to you both and let you know what it is.”

“Hey, a few minutes ago you were about to look for some other partners because we were taking too long making up our minds,” Ray said with a sharp edge to his voice. “You were the one in a big hurry. Why can’t you pick a time right now?”

“Well,” Nick said, blushing, “I have a little problem that is keeping us from doing it right away.”

“What’s that?”

Nick swallowed hard. “The truck,” he said. “I haven’t found the bobtail we need to pull the trailer.”


Bosco ran into Ray and LaVonne in the Blue Door, drinking on a tab. He could tell they had both already managed to go through the money they had picked up in the Mandragola Ventures scam. It was the same every time a Bottom Street guy scored: he just didn’t seem to be able to get rid of the cash fast enough.

Bosco ordered a straight rye from Ronnie Pervez, the Door’s owner. Sipping it, he joined Campos and Walker at their table.

“You’ll never guess what I just saw,” he said as he sat down, grinning and shaking his head with an expression of amused exasperation.

“A UFO full of them little green guys?” LaVonne said. “Shit, I dunno. What?”

Bosco hooked a thumb toward the door. “On the other side of the street, there’s this Mexican-looking guy, maybe middle-eastern but I’m guessing Hispanic,” he said.

“Maybe he just has a good tan,” Campos said with a tight smile. His father and uncle were rapoƱeros—pickpockets from Colombia who had come to the U.S. to ply their trade on the gringos at LAX. Both eventually were deported, but not before Ray's father had met and married a Mexican woman and sired little Ray. The woman, who was also an illegal, was deported 18 years later, but by then Raimundo Elizondo Campos—his U.S. citizenship a happy accident of birth—had already acquired a lengthy juvenile rap sheet and was doing a stint in the California Youth Authority.

Because of his background, Ray was a little sensitive to perceived slights against Latinos.

“Could be,” Bosco said, mulling it over. “He also could have been a Jewish brain surgeon moonlighting by doing yard work. The fact is, where he came from isn’t really part of this story. You want to hear it?”

Ray lifted his beer bottle in a gesture for Bosco to continue.

“Anyway, he’s got this leaf blower and it’s all cranked up, you see?” Bosco said. “He’s blowing all the leaves from the far side of the street over to this side.”

Campos shrugged. “Probably hired by Connaughey over at the funeral home,” he said. “That guy’s a fucking neat freak.”

Bosco held up his hand to indicate he wasn’t done. “Over on this side of the street there’s another Mexican-looking guy with a leaf blower,” he said. “And he’s blowing all the leaves from his side over to the other side.”

LaVonne looked puzzled. “These motherfuckers blowing leaves onto each other or what?” he asked, struggling to visualize the scene.

Bosco shook his head. “No,” he said. “One is up at the far corner, by Jones, and one is down near Leavenworth, at the other end. But they’re working their way toward each other. I couldn’t help but wonder what was going to happen when they do meet up in the middle.”

Ray chuckled. “I’m glad you told me that story and not that sick fuck Dolman,” he said. “He’d spend the rest of the day yammering about dumb Mexicans.”

LaVonne laughed. “Not while you around, Ray,” he said. “He never talk shit about a group of people while any of them nearby.”

Campos looked puzzled. “What do you mean?”

“What he means is you’re a Latino, so Nick won’t run Mexicans down as long as you can hear him,” Bosco said. “Nick never pisses on a particular type of person so long as a member of that specific group is nearby. You remember when he was going on and on about the hot air blower the other night?”

Ray nodded.

“It was rag-head this and sand-monkey that,” Bosco said. “But whenever Ronnie over there walked by, he stopped running his mouth.”

"What's your point?" Ray asked.

Bosco shrugged. "Ronnie is Persian," he said. "Nick isn't going to talk shit about Iranians someplace where one might hear him—particularly not one who can refuse to let the cheap bastard run a tab."

Ray considered this. “I guess I never noticed that before,” he said slowly as he mulled it over. “Now that you mention it, he’s always ranting about niggers when we’re alone together, but not when LaVonne or Eli or Bags is around. And I can’t remember him ever saying anything bad about Latinos when I was with him.”

LaVonne laughed again, clearly enjoying Ray’s reaction to this revelation. “Yeah, but you leave to take a shit, man, and he’s all over spics and wetbacks and motherfucking chili chokers,” he said. “I know. I been there when it happen.”

“Why’s he do that?” Ray asked with a puzzled look on his face.

“Dolman is a person of color himself,” LaVonne said with a smile. “His color’s yellow. He got a big-ass stripe of it from the back of his head to the crack of his ass.”

Bosco shook his head. “I don’t think he does it ‘cause he’s chickenshit,” he said. “I think he does it because he’s shrewd. He doesn’t want to piss anybody off that he might be able to get something from. If he’s nice to you, buys you a drink or something? That’s ‘cause he wants something from you.”

Ray and LaVonne looked at each other. LaVonne grinned broadly as a light bulb finally went off in Ray’s head.

“That must have been the reason he bought us all those drinks the other day,” Ray said. “He wanted us to work with him on that tool trailer deal.”

Bosco frowned. “What tool trailer deal?” he asked.

“We wasn’t supposed to say nothing to you or Eli about it,” LaVonne said. “Nick found this construction job where they got a trailer full of construction shit he gonna light finger. He cut Ray ‘n’ me in on his scam. I think he was gettin’ off on having his own crew for a job.”

“What do you mean construction shit? You mean like tractors and all that bop?” Bosco asked.

“Naw,” Ray said. “This is all small stuff. Drills, and electric saws and things that you can store inside a trailer on a construction site.”

Bosco considered this. “What exactly does Nick have in mind?”

“He’s going to try and find one of those front ends from a trailer-tractor rig,” Campos said. “He wants to cut the chain on the gate, drive the truck inside, hook up to the trailer and haul it away. He’ll stash the trailer someplace safe, go through all the shit inside and fence the goods.”

The scheme would only sound like it had possibilities to a knucklehead like Dolman, Bosco thought. Where in hell could you temporarily stash a trailer full of construction tools without having somebody report it? Where would you get rid of the damned trailer after you cleaned out anything valuable inside? And who would buy that kind of stuff? There were all kinds of hot goods dealers in San Francisco but Bosco didn’t know any that specialized in small pieces of construction equipment. You’d probably have to cart the swag all over town, going from one pawn shop to another to unload it.

Nick’s scheme has more holes in it than a cheese grater, Bosco thought.

“So are you guys in on this deal?” Bosco asked.

LaVonne sighed. “Man, we know Nick is a moron, but we both need work,” he said. “You and Eli don’t have anything for us and we got to do something. Only I got a bad feeling about this deal. It smells like it going to blow up in our face.”

“Yeah,” Ray said. “Nick could fuck up a wet dream. If he’s setting this up, there’s bound to be a hole in it big enough to stash this trailer he wants to steal. What do you think, Bosco? Should we tell Nick to pack sand or what?”

Bosco shrugged. “You’re both big boys now, you have to figure this one out for yourself,” he said. “It will probably be a couple of months before Eli and I run another number, so you’re right about us not having any work for you right now. I could loan you both some cash, but I have to hoard part of the take from Mandragola as start-up for our next scam, so it probably wouldn’t be that much.”

He smiled. “Besides, the way you two assholes spend money, it wouldn’t go very far anyway.”

“I think I’m going to go with Nick on this deal then,” said LaVonne. "I hate to do it, but money talks and bullshit walks. And I ain’t walkin’ bro."

“Yeah, me too,” said Ray. “If it ends up being FUBAR, that’s the breaks. I can’t go back to working the dip at Pier 39 and Hallidie Plaza. The cops all know me too well there and the merchants, too. First pocket I pick, I’m violated and going back to Corcoran. I still got parole conditions from that 211 that earned me a six-year stretch there.”

“Well, fuck,” Bosco said, lifting his glass in a weak salute. “I guess that’s it then. I hope it goes well for you guys and that you make a big score. I hope it all works out for the best.”


The more Bosco thought about it, the more it ticked him off. Nick was one of Eli’s hires and Bosco considered him a charity case. He was too dumb to use in a big con, even for a walk-on part. The only thing he was really worth a damn for was loading the truck when the game was over and they were breaking the scam down, like at Mandragola. And Bosco wasn’t even sure Nick was any good at cleaning up the site. Now he wondered if the dumb bastard had left a bunch of fingerprints on something or spread his own DNA all over the scene.

“What an asshole,” he muttered angrily as he nursed his Jim Beam Rye.

The best that could come of Nick’s scheme was a bunch of second-hand boodle that nobody would take off the stupid bastard’s hands. There probably wasn’t going to be much profit, even if he had good luck moving the swag, but that was a relatively minor downside. The real problem was that the scheme could end up getting Nick and his partners arrested: they had to find some way to ditch the trailer they stole; the vehicle they used to haul it away could be traced. The cops would eventually track them down and each guy from the crew who got grabbed was a potential rat. That meant Bosco and Eli got exposure from Nick’s caper, even though neither had anything to do with it.

“Stupid fucking asshole,” he said, angrier than before.

This was all Eli’s fault. All the dumb fucks they worked with had been recruited by Eli: Dolman, Campos, Walker and that dipshit Carnahan who got grabbed by the cops sticking up an Arab liquor store and was doing 25-to-life on his third strike. None of them were worth the powder to blow them to hell.

The brainy people—like Bagwell if he’d ever take the bait and join the crew, and Carole Peterson, the chick that had done such a beautiful job in the psychic number they had run two years back, were Bosco’s hires. He sighed. Too bad Carole got married and moved out to Walnut Creek. She'd been smart and really quick on her feet. She probably had two kids, a Volvo station wagon and 80 pounds of extra flab by now. Even so, she could still out hustle Dolman, who had the IQ of a jar of oysters.

Bosco had once raised the issue with Eli but got no satisfaction.

"Dolman is an idiot," he'd said. "Why do you keep that dipshit in the crew?"

Eli just gave him that smirk that irritated people and used his forefinger to pet his little soul patch. "I know he's not the sharpest knife in the kitchen, but the guy is funny," he said.

"I got an aunt that's funny like Nicky Dolman," Bosco replied with disgust. "She's up in the Q ward at Napa because she jammed a pair of scissors through my uncle's left eye. Someday Nick is going to fuck us all, wait and see."

Bosco drained his glass and ordered a second. It looked like that someday was now. He was going to have to have a heart-to-heart with Nicky Dolman, and really soon.


Soon ended up being a little after 3 p.m. the next day. Nick hadn’t been around Bottom Street since LaVonne and Ray bought into his trailer heist so Bosco went looking for him. With a word here and there, he learned Dolman had been hanging out at Lucy’s, a dive a couple of blocks from the Hall of Justice. That made sense, Bosco reasoned: the son-of-a-bitch spent so much time in the county lock-up he probably hated to wander far from his home away from home.

Nick was just starting his second beer and looking at the funnies in the afternoon paper when Bosco walked through the door, crossed the room and spun a chair around to sit down across from him with his arms on its back.

“Nick,” he said quietly. “You’d be amazed at the shit you hear sometimes. Somebody told me you were going solo on us.”

Dolman almost choked on his beer. “Who the fuck told you that bullshit,” he sputtered, wondering how Bosco knew where he was and how he had found out about the trailer deal.

“A little bird,” Bosco said with a humorless smile. “Is it true? You running your own game now?”

Dolman’s flushed with embarrassment. “No!” he said. “I just had a little job I stumbled onto that I wanted to do by myself, that’s all.”

“You planning to go solo regular, man?” Bosco demanded.

“No, honest,” Dolman said, shaking his head frantically.

“Because if that’s what you want, I can understand,” Bosco said, ignoring his response. “Sometimes a guy wants to spread his wings a little, be his own boss, you know?”

“No,” Nicky blurted before realizing he was giving the wrong answer. “I mean, yeah, I understand what you’re saying, Bosco,” he added, correcting himself.

Bosco stared at him. “A little free-lance piece, huh? I hear you got Ray and LaVonne in it with you, so you aren’t exactly doing it by ‘yourself,’ are you?” he added, using his fingers to make imaginary quotation marks in the air around the word “yourself.”

Nicky had the look of an animal in a spotlight. “Well, yeah,” he said, licking his lips. “They were between jobs. I didn’t figure you or Eli would care or I would have mentioned it to you.”

“Why would we be interested, Nick?” Bosco said. “I mean, you guys are all adults, right? You’re big enough to make decisions for yourself. You don’t need me and Eli hanging over you and telling you what to do, do you?”

“No,” Nick said, then didn’t like the way it sounded. “I mean, yeah, we’re grown-ups. But it isn’t like I was cutting you loose or anything.”

“I mean it’s really none of our business, is it Nick?” Bosco added.

“No. I mean yes,” Dolman said weakly. He was now completely confused about what question he was actually answering—or whether Bosco had asked a question he was supposed to answer in the first place. Sweat was beading on his forehead and he could feel it well up in his armpits and trickle down his sides.

He had never been afraid of Bosco or Eli before; they were just con men, not hard guys like that mob hit man he had met at the federal joint in Dublin. But there was something in Bosco’s manner today that reminded him of the hit man. Nicky was beginning to wish he had never thought about that tool trailer job.

“But it would be our business if you fucked it up so much that one or more of you assholes got busted, wouldn’t it?” Bosco said, lowering his voice so Dolman had to lean forward to hear what he was saying. “It would definitely be our business, because if any of you guys go inside, you become a threat to Eli and me.”

Nick said nothing. He was trembling so much that he looked like one of those dolls with the big heads they give away at the ballpark.

Bosco leaned forward himself and poked Dolman in the chest with his forefinger. “You go ahead and do this solo number, Nick,” he said, lowering his voice even more. “But if you guys fuck up, you better watch your back, because Eli and I aren’t going to end up in your shit, dig? Not now. Not ever.”

Without another word, Bosco stood, turned and walked out of the bar. Nick sat there for several minutes, still shaking. When he finally got up, he went directly to the bathroom, leaving a little puddle on the seat of his chair.

(Continued in Nicky's Deal II)

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