About sunrise that Saturday morning the green Nash drove west from the town of Boone, cruising along slowly for an hour, before it circled around to the south to enter the old quarry road from the east.
Everything had been timed. Tires whined eagerly, like dogs on a fresh scent. Pinkey was driving. Monk was on the right-hand side, waiting with the stovepipe, the bazooka. A third man was in the back seat. It was a small mob. It was a real small mob for a real big heist, Monk was thinking. But the stovepipe was a technological booster for a small mob. That was what Gramma once had said. The technological booster. Monk liked that. He really did.
When the armored pay truck was sighted, Pinkey gunned the Nash close to ninety in the final spurt. He swung out to pass. Inside the Nash, Monk saw only a blurred impression of something like an enormous gray beetle on wheels. It was happening so fast those guys in that pay truck still hadn't got the idea something was going to bust at them in another forty-five seconds. Monk braced himself for Pinkey to slam on the brakes. But right then the man in the Nash's rear seat gave quick warning.
Monk had also seen the danger. Ahead of the armored pay truck, pacing it, rode a state cop on a motorcycle. That cop hadn't been anticipated by Gramma. Monk saw Pinkey's face turn slighty, his mouth working, asking for instructions. All in a flash Monk had to decide.
He lunged, big and bulky, shouting to the man humped in the back seat to take out that copper. Immediately Pinkey clamped on the foot brakes and the Nash careened violently, tailing back and forth on the narrow road and leaving a trail of rubbery smoke from the tires. It stopped sideways across the road.
Monk was pitched forward. But the man in the back seat was good. It was all over in split seconds. His machine gun muzzle smashed the rear window even before the car had fully stopped, and as Monk got out he heard the chopping racket.
Halfway between the clumsy armed truck and the Nash, the state cop began falling apart. The motorcycle wobbled. Its engine roared against the staccato racket from the Nash. A front wheel suddenly crumpled, and a chain unwound like a snake. The cop fell backward, with little red tufts all at once sprouting from him like small feathers; he struck the road and he stayed there.
Monk was swearing, the same dull word over and over again. He pulled frantically at a big tube which looked something like a stovepipe. Leaning into the front of the car, his back and legs were exposed; any second he expected lead from those bums in the armored truck. Pinkey had leaped out on the other side, firing deliberately and carefully with the big service forty-five. Now Chopper Boy was on the pavement, too, giving the truck a long burst. Monk pulled the stovepipe from the Nash. Although he'd rehearsed it time and time again during six stinking months of waiting until finally he could load within three seconds, now it took him a damned extra second longer because his hands were sweaty and seemed all thumbs.
He shoved the charge into the stovepipe. He had turn, kneeling on the road. He lifted the stovepipe, feeling one end of the barrel pressing coldly against his ear and running behind his head to carry the blast away from him. He took another second to sight through the cross wires, bringing the armored truck into center.
For this continuing second he was all alone on this side of the Nash and he'd never felt so exposed. He couldn't see Pinkey or Chopper Boy. They were hidden from him on the opposite side of the Nash. They'd probably fallen flat on the pavement to protect themselves. He felt rage against them because right now he had to show himself to the men in the armored truck.
But the air had become hideous from the Chopper's spraying, even if machine gun bullets didn't do much more than dent an armored pay truck at that distance. The state cop was still sprawled in the highway, not moving. The motorcycle had compressed itself into a shining ripple of tubes and wheels.
Everything between himself and the pay truck were only blurred details, scarcely seen. He was concentrating on the truck, three hundred and ten feet distant, approximately, by the calibered sights of the M 3 old-style bazooka.
The armored truck had stopped. But just as Gramma had anticipated, the driver and guards inside were too confident. Instead of trying to turn around on the quarry road and run for it, they'd decided they could safely shoot it out behind the bullet-proof glass and the armor plate. Someone inside that truck had even had time to run out a machine gun through the nickel-plated orifice on the right-hand side of the glass windshield.
Through the cross wires Monk saw the machine gun poke its nozzle around left to right to stutter dimly Pinkey and Chopper Boy on the other side of the Nash.
Monk's fingers jerked convulsively. He was rocked by the concussion, the blast spurting behind him. A red flower opened where the armored truck had been. The flower blossomed into a crashing of sound. Monk whirled, grabbing a second charge from the yellow box inside the Nash. He began running toward the smoking truck. The truck's machine gun was silenced. It could mean the four men inside the truck had been finished by the first explosion, but Monk didn't want to take any chances. He saw Pinkey was running along with him and had a moment of increased fury because he didn't see Chopper Boy. What the hell was he doing, staying behind?
After the explosion, the front end of the gray armored truck fell forward on the broken front wheels, its hood ripped off, its windshield shattered, with a man in uniform hanging head down into the engine's wreckage. The driver was still upright, clenching the steering wheel, but not much of his head remained. That accounted for two of them. But the two remaining guards could still be alive and waiting inside the rear of the truck.
Monk yelled, "Hold it, Pinkey," stopped before he got too close, and this time aimed at the right-hand side of the truck. The second explosion sent pieces of steel plate into the air like scraps of cardboard, and a whole fountain of smoke lifted. A burst of hot air kicked at Monk and he staggered, squinting his eyes, trying to see through the smoke. His eyes had been going bad on him. He needed his glasses but he couldn't risk wearing glasses on a job like this because glasses helped identify a man. Pinkey jumped in, ready to fire with his forty-five at anything that moved. Now Monk saw the third guard had been catapulted to the pavement, lying there like a sack, stone dead, the face a red ooze and eyeless.
Pinkey called, "O.K., Monk. There ain't enough of the fourth boy to scrape up."
Monk threw down the bazooka, its usefulness was ended. That was part of the rehearsed plan. Leave everything unnecessary, Gramma had said patiently, over and over again. The bazooka couldn't be traced. Gramma had seen to that. Monk wedged his big bulky body through the jagged opening in the side of the truck, and his nearsighted eyes now saw what Pinkey meant by saying the fourth boy couldn't even be scraped up. That fixed it good. Nobody left to finger them.
The metal floor of the truck was pitched at an angle because the second shot from the bazooka had smashed a rear wheel as well as tearing out half of the outer wall. Although the old 1942 issues had long since been replaced by the army's heavier and more accurate tank killers, it had taken somebody with Gramma's brains to see one of the old-style bazookas still packed all the firepower needed to smash open any pay truck.
Monk saw the fiber suitcase. Of course it wasn't really a fiber suitcase. It was a regulation Federal reserve shipment case. But Gramma had always been careful, even to the smallest details. It had made it easier for Monk to know instantly what he was looking for by saying it looked like a fiber suitcase. It had fallen along the slant of floor and was hanging there, the chain still attached by the regulation padlock. Monk hauled out his thirty-eight special. A sudden doubt flickered in his mind--could a case that small hold half a million dollars? Monk took few more seconds to peer around the crumpled interior. No, by God. This was the only case. This was it, all right.
He heard Pinkey's worried snarl, "Geez, Monk, we're losing too much time!"
Monk shot at the chain. One shot should have been enough since the chain end was only stapled into the hard fiber. But Monk was shooting from an awkward position. The second shot snapped the chain free from the case. He backed out into the morning light. He saw Pinkey waiting but he didn't see Chopper Boy. All at once he had vague intimation of something perhaps having gone off the track. But he had no time for much thinking. Everything was too silent and still after the gunfire and explosions.
In the silence, Pinkey's voice sounded too loud. "We're running behind time, Monk. Suppose that doll of yours gets tired waiting in the transfer car? You got the stuff?"
Monk nodded. He had the stuff. What the hell did Pinkey think was in this fiber case? Pinkey was always asking unnecessary questions. He could drive a car down a rat hole if he had to and that was why Gramma had picked him, but when he wasn't behind a steering wheel he yaked too much. Monk swung his chunky head around , in a final quick check-up. The road remained empty. For a second he still could persuade himself everything had gone smoothly.
But Pinkey was saying something, pointing north toward a cornfield. A lane ran through the field, higher above the field, to a farmhouse. Monk squinted. Perhaps a quarter of a mile away, two people were running toward the road. They'd heard the shooting and explosions. The dopes lacked the sense God gave them to keep out of it, he thought.
Monk told Pinkey, "Pick them off if you can, but hurry," and started running toward the Nash, the fiber bag banging against his left leg. Behind him he heard three hard slamming sounds from Pinkey's forty-five. He didn't look behind him or toward the cornfield. If he felt anything he felt anger because a couple of jerks from a farm hadn't had the sense to stay inside just two more minutes. But all he really was thinking of was to get back to the Nash and drive it like hell to where his transfer was waiting.
Because he was the big joe on this job he had to carry the hot money on through the final stage. Not until he got rid of the hot money, with nothing on him any more to prove he'd been in this caper, would he be able to relax a little and have the swarm of bees inside his blood stream gradually melt away.
He pounded past the dead copper. Pinkey wasn't far behind. All at once Monk stopped short, his breath exhaling. Crumpled on the road not far from the left rear wheel of the Nash was Chopper Boy. It was the face of an old chopper boy, a real old one, about forty. Four holes were drilled straight across the flat forehead.
Pinkey said, "I didn't have no chance to tell you. They get him jus' when you aimed the stovepipe."
Until three hours ago Monk had never even seen this particular chopper boy. But he was part of the mob. He had been allied with Monk. Those armored truck guards had had no right to kill him, Monk felt, not aware of his grotesque reasoning. The boy was dead, stinking dead. But before the caper Gramma had had the foresight to have all three of his boys wear old clothes from which all identification marks had been removed.
"We don't take him, do we, boy?" Pinkey said.
"We just leave him here," Monk said. "Get going."
More shrilly Pinkey explained that the two farmers had hidden in their house. Phone wires were strung to it. That meant a phone. But there wasn't time now to get back to that telephone pole and cut the connecting wires to that farmhouse. Monk slammed the door on his side, immediately being thrown against the seat as Pinkey gunned the ignition.
Monk could trust Pinkey with the driving. For the next fifteen minutes or so it was Pinkey's responsibility to get the two of them to the first transfer point. The big purring rumble from the engine was vaguely reassuring. Monk held the money case on his knees. The lock had been smashed. His fingers began prying at the lid.
In his mind he tried to calculate a problem of time and distance. Those jerks in the farmhouse would probably phone the police or the sheriff's office at Boone, which was some four miles east of the quarry road. Well, there was still a margin. It wasn't such a fat margin as Gramma had so confidently believed; still, it ought to be ample. As soon as Monk reached the transfer car and could ditch these damned greasy rags and get into decent clothes again and put the money case out of sight, even if a longer stage followed before final delivery, it would be progressively easier and easier. It was right now when he was out of action and it depended on Pinkey that the swarm of bees inside his veins became intolerable.
He got the lid open and suddenly felt his throat swell with the soundless gushing of more rage. The case was packed with flat bundles of bank notes, all right. But he was saved the trouble of having to count them. It was all there for him to see, the typewritten list, done in triplicate, the total added, properly signed with unknown signatures. According to the list this shipment contained twenty-five bundles of twenty-dollar notes, two thousand to each bundle; twenty-five of tens, one thousand a bundie; and five of fifties, five thousand each. The total was one hundred thousand dollars.
While that wasn't hay, as a fresh young punk might say, Monk began saying one dull curse over and over again Out of the corner of his mouth Pinkey asked thinly "Ain't we got it?" Monk told him. They'd stuck their necks into it for a puking hundred thousand when they had assumed it would be for a half million.
This was only a stinking regular mixed shipment from the reserve to the branch bank at Boone. Mixed shipments came through every week in various denominations. For six months Gramma had been patiently waiting until one of the big shipments was scheduled to be sent through. This, presumably, had been the morning.
Gramma's cut was half. That was standard. For half the profits, Gramma planned the jig, paid expenses, and even if it was understood that he remained in the background he had a reputation of standing by his boys through trouble, with a big mouthpiece appearing out of nowhere and all the defense money required. In return, his boys all knew what happened if they failed to stand by Gramma.
As big joe on this one Monk was to have a quarter slice. The final piece of pie would be a two-way split between Pinkey and Chopper Boy, who was now past caring. For the almost certain take of half a million, Monk had considered his cut of $125,000 worth risking the really big trouble. With slightly bulging eyes he stared at the neat packets of new bank notes. Pinkey had taken it equally hard, saying soft wretched words. He turned into another road, and another at the next four corners. He was behind time for the pick-up but he was too good a driver to drive too fast and risk attracting attention to the Nash from the scattering of cars passing by.
Monk said, "A stinking hundred grand!"
Without turning his head, Pinkey said, "Gramma ain't gonna like hearing he got the wrong tip-off."
Monk was thinking he wasn't going to like having to tell Alma it was only a hundred grand. She'd come into this, as he had, for the one chance of really big money.
"One thing," Pinkey said more hopefully, "Chopper Boy won't want his cut no more. That gives me and you an extra slice."
Monk said thickly what he thought of that thin extra slice. Sweat came out on him like drops of blood from the swarm of bees inside him. Pinkey's head nodded. They were all gypped. Now they had to keep on, whether they liked it or not. Monk couldn't help thinking that it would be at least a little better if Pinkey and he just kept Gramma's fifty-grand cut. Next, he thought of the big trouble that from now on would always be waiting somewhere as long as he lived. He'd need Gramma. He couldn't do without Gramma. It would be rough not to know Gramma also was there, ready to do all possible to shield the boys, providing the boys broke no rules.
So he didn't say anything about leaving out Gramma; and neither did Pinkey, although perhaps the same nervous greedy thoughts slid through his narrow head. Pinkey ran the Nash around a curve. A kind of hollow stretched ahead of them where probably guys hunted ducks in the fall. He said, "Here we are, boy," bringing the Nash to an easy stop. He looked back and then forward. At least here their luck was good. No other cars were in sight. Monk closed the money case, opening the door.