"They won't like this," Fancy said as they put one of the little bags into the gasoline tank of the last truck.
"Tough on 'em." Ray looked down the line of white vehicles, looming like blocky ghosts in the light of the quarter-moon. Each of thirty-one tanks now contained a small paper bag with sugar and sand in it. The paper would soon dissolve, and when they tried to drive them--well, there would be a lot of repair work before they went very far! It gave him a feeling of power, to be the unknown cause of so much turmoil.
He watched the traffic zoom past on the four-lane highway that bordered one side of the big plant. If one of those pairs of speeding headlights turned into the driveway, they would be in for real trouble.
Fancy moved his feet uneasily. "C'mon, Ray. Let's get out of here."
"O.K." It made him feel stronger and calmer to know that Fancy was scared, although the guy never did have much guts. "We'll turn on the sprinkler system and beat it."
They went through the blackness across the patch of lawn and flower beds that separated the truck park from the long, glass-brick wall of the modern warehouse. Along the top of the building cut-out letters, illuminated by clusters of floodlights, proclaimed Acme Meats--Produce.
As they scurried across the area close to the building, where the reflected light from the sign shed dim rays, Ray said: "Any outfit that uses the name Acme ought to get fouled up. Always reminds me of acne."
"Yeah," Fancy agreed. "I'd rather see Standard or Modorn or something like that."
They went through the polished door where they had first collected the gullible watchman with a gun in his ribs. He was still lying in the warehouse, an elderly Italian with tape across his eyes and mouth, short loops of cotton line around his wrists and ankles. Ray had made the knots himself--squares and clove hitches learned in the Navy--and he knew they would hold. He was proud of the bindings, as he was of everything creative that he did, striving for perfection. Ray never forgot anything.
He saw with satisfaction that the sulfur candles were burning briskly in the big refrigerated vaults, where they had left the doors open to give them air. There was a lot of meat in there that Acme would never sell!
"You stay here. Don't take your gloves off or touch anything."
Fancy nodded, his expression one of worry mixed with fear. Oh Lord, Ray thought, why do I always have to move with jerks and morons? If I could once find a guy as fast on his feet and with a brain like mine . . .
He clambered up an iron ladder that led to the machinery platforms on the upper deck. His movements were graceful, powerful, like an acrobat who has trained well for the smoothness of the act and the eye of the crowd.
Just below the top of the ladder, one of the sprinkler heads projected from a water pipe. Ray took a packet of matches from his pocket, flipped them alight with the old sailor's snap of thumb against a bent, single match, and held the improvised flare under the sprinkler seal.
Woosh! The spinner revolved and a shower of water burst over him. He went down the ladder like a cat down a drainpipe, and observed with satisfaction that the other sprinklers in the chain were releasing their sprays. The interior of the warehouse appeared to be generating a tropical deluge. A fire gong began ringing with the solid beat of a ship's alarm bell.
"Let's get out of here!" Fancy bleated.
"Yeah," Ray agreed. He stopped to look at the watchman, who was lying under one of the sprinklers. "Look at him! His first bath in ten years."
He followed Fancy into the yard, got behind the wheel of the old Ford sedan, and drove quietly out the rear exit of the parking lot.
They followed the highway that would take them to the Holland Tunnel, and a fire engine with its siren moaning passed them, headed in the opposite direction. Ray chuckled. "I wonder where they're going?"
Fancy was nervously lighting a cigarette. "I can guess. I'm glad that's over."
Ray lit a cigarette for himself, noting contentedly that his hand was perfectly steady around the nickeled lighter. "We aren't through yet, son. Keep your chin up. If you wouldn't worry so much, you'd get by easier."
"Yeah, but I keep thinking, if they catch up with us, it'll be curtains. Those big tough mobs against us two little guys."
Ray didn't like that. He was over six feet tall, and tried to keep himself in condition, although a fondness for cigars and bourbon and brunettes interfered when he could afford them. "Never mind that stuff," he said. "We're just as big as they are when they come two at a time."
Fancy was quiet until they reached Manhattan, drove north a few blocks, and parked the car on a side street. Then he asked nervously, "What time is it?"
Ray read his watch. "Just before five. Come on, time for us to deliver the milk."
He very gingerly took two thick, unmarked bottles out of a small carton on the floor where they had been cushioned in a nest of crumpled newspapers. He gave one to Fancy, and led the way around the corner and into the dark maw of a big building, its entrance a dark tunnel lit by one neon strip above the bank of silent elevators.
They passed the passenger lifts and Ray held out a hand in caution as he peered around the angle in the troweled concrete wall. "O.K. The freight car's up at seven."
He quickly inserted a key in the door under a sign flanked by a red bulb. The sign read Exit. "For us, this is the entrance," Ray commented cheerfully, and closed the door softly behind them.
It was the bottom of a cold, stony well, dark and depressing. Circling into the blackness above them wound the stairs, and echoing through the shaft, like a witch's whispered warning, sounded the hiss of air displaced by the moving freight elevator.
"Gee," Fancy said shakily. "This place could stand some cheering up. Where do you think that guy is now?"
Ray took the bottle Fancy carried away from him--the lad was just too damn nervous. He climbed the stairs, snapping over his shoulder: "Shut up, now. Come on."
He listened for the elevator, checking the numbered doors as he passed them. Three--four--had the car stopped? He paused, shielding his flashlight, trying to judge the location of the car dangling in the shaft on the opposite side of the cement that separated elevator shafts from stair well. The sighing sounds went away. The night man was going up. They could have lured him down by pressing the button, for he was expected to supply elevator service for early arrivals, but it was just as simple this way.
At the sixth floor, Ray stopped beside the metal, fireproof door. It was locked, to prevent just such prowlers as they from moving between floors. He opened it easily with the master key and they went into the corridor. In the glow of his flashlight he saw the reception desk facing the elevators, the switchboard operator's glass foxhole beside it, and the modernistic blonde maple and blue leatherette chairs and settees in the long portion of the foyer furnished as a waiting room. The long sign on the wall above the desks read Hencher Clothes--Wholesale--Retail.
Fancy said: "Gee, quite a layout. Do they have the whole floor?"
"Yeah," Ray told him. "And the next floor down, but this is where we cook up our little surprise for 'em. You stay here and watch the elevator indicators. Holler to me if they look like somebody is coming to this floor."
He went through the door into the workrooms, finding his way without error or pause, although he had only visited the Hencher offices once, on the pretext of buying a suit. The dim light of dawn was spreading a gray, sickly luminescence through the line of high windows in the east wall. He could find his way through the ranks of sewing machines, the tiers of racks holding bolts of textiles and suits that marched together down the long room like soldiers parading single file after being pressed under steam rollers. He climbed up on the end rack and went to work.
He took the glass stopper out of a bottle and tossed it away. They were standard items and could not be traced. He worked carefully, moving his gloved hand delicately, pouring just a little of the liquid onto each of the great bolts of goods that hung silently in their racks like monster, multiple wringer rolls in giant washing machines.
Just a little here--a little there--concentrated sulfuric acid is so economic, its ruinous action so thorough. He moved along the tiers, spreading droplets of acid that ate through layers of fabric like fire through tissue paper.
He patrolled up and down the long pipe racks holding finished merchandise, trying to concentrate on the expensive, heavier sharkskins and worsteds, spreading the acid thinly on what he presumed to be less expensive suits or summer-weight items. When the last bottle was empty he threw it at one of the sewing machines and approached the filing cabinets ranked along the inside wall between three wide, battered but sturdy desks. Quietly, he pulled out most of the drawers, fluffed up a few handfuls of paper on the lower sections, and touched matches to them. When half-a-dozen small fires were gobbling greedily at the files with eager yellow tongues of flame, he calmly closed the match cover in his gloved hands and replaced it in his pocket.
He watched the blazes grow. Surprise, boys!
His reflections were disturbed by a sharp call from Fancy, "Hey, the car is coming up."
Ray walked through the door to the foyer and looked at the dial. Four--five--and six! So they hit the jackpot, did they? He still felt the elation that had risen in him in the moments of destruction. He took the old .38 Police Positive out of his pocket and motioned Fancy back. They were standing well to one side when the door of the first opening in the group slid open.
An elderly man, stooped with the weight of years spent in heavy toil, stepped out of the car carrying a pail of sweeping compound. He was saying, "--if she hits 234 boxed today we're--" when Ray stepped into sight and cut him off.
"Let's hope it hits," he said. "Get back in the car."
The older man backed up, his face ashen. When he was in the car he spoke to the porter, a squat, muscular man in a black shirt with the sleeves cut off. "Harry, he's got a--"
The heavily lined face looked suddenly scared as he stopped talking. Ray followed him into the car and waited until Fancy joined him.
"Down," he said heavily. The porter would require watching. He just stood there, getting an eyeful of them, his features too expressionless. One of the worn-out racket boys they gave a job to, Ray thought, he might be willing to make a name for himself.
He disregarded the old man and pointed the blue barrel of the .38 at the porter's stomach. "Down."
The porter's heavy jaw moved. "Geez, guy, you're crazy to heist this joint. It's one of the big boy's places."
"Yeah, I know," Ray answered, watching him. "Tell him we were here."
"He'll be mad."
"Yeah. They own the building, too, don't they?"
"Sure. You're in bad, guy."
Ray held out his left hand, behind him, to Fancy. He hadn't thought that they could afford two guns, and he didn't have much confidence in Fancy's ability with one in any case. Fancy carried a lead-loaded sap they had purchased in a pawn shop in Logansport. He said, "Do you take her down or do I give you a present?"
The burly man shrugged, let the door slide shut, and pushed down the control. "Ground floor," Ray said. The sap was in his hand.
He stepped back in the car, pushing the old man to one side, and when the porter let the control swing on-center for the stop, he slammed the leather club against the back side of his head. Not too hard, he had told himself, pleased at the perfection of his ambidextrous blow. Just right! The man was on the floor, grumbling like a man in troubled sleep. Something like a sob burst from the old floorman.
Ray opened the door and stepped out, surveyed the empty lobby, and held the portal open for Fancy. "When this door closes," he told the old man, "you push that control over and hold it there. If I see the indicator stop, I'll come up and blast you."
The accordion-like iron strips of the car door slid closed, and the portal guarding the shaft opening slammed shut just behind it. The car moaned away, the indicator crawling past two--three . . .
"Time to leave," Ray said. They went out of the building without meeting anyone, and walked around the comer toward the car.
Ray moved with a discreet strut, a satisfied saunter. He felt a bursting sense of accomplishment, like the glow after six quick drinks.
"L--L--look!" A choking quality of fear in Fancy's tone made Ray look up.
Standing at the rear of the Ford, his leg in its black puttee perched on the bumper, was a member of New York's finest. He looked big, neat and efficient in his traffic division uniform. He was writing out a ticket.