When my thumb squeezes the trigger, nothing happens. Well, that figures. The shotgun must be jammed. A final, very bad piece of luck for ol’ Austin Carr.
I try once more, a near-death panic pushing my actions, giving me a miraculous surge of will. Still nothing. No explosion. And this time my furious attempt to fire the weapon makes the gun stock bounce and rattle on the basement’s cement floor.
Creeper’s gaze snaps toward the noise.
Well, gee, this is beginning to look like The End. The oft-forecast demise of Austin Carr and his full-boat smile. The semi-orphanization of one Elizabeth Carr and Ryan Carr, two school-age children who--
Air rushes into my desperate lungs. Oh, my. Creeper has decided he’d rather have his paws on the shotgun than around my throat. What a strange tactical decision, especially considering the shotgun so recently proved unreliable. Hell, I was almost unconscious. Go figure.
Creeper’s poor judgment not only means oxygen for my air-starved lungs, but now that I can breathe, perhaps I can even launch a counterattack, wrestle free of Creeper’s awesome weight.
I throw my shoulders and hips to the left, away from the shotgun. I catch Creeper leaning, his arm reaching for the shotgun. The jerky twist indeed breaks me loose like a stuck jar of peanut butter.
My newly reacquired air supply suddenly tastes even sweeter. A shot of confidence joins the adrenaline zooming through my blood. Kinda like last night at Clooneys when Gina told Franny I’d be spending the night in Brooklyn.
Are you watching Don Juan? Witnessing this dramatic reversal of my Last Battle on Earth?
I scramble onto my haunches and face Creeper. He’s sitting ass-flat on the basement floor, the shotgun between his ox-like thighs. We can’t be more than five feet apart. My gaze looks straight down the shotgun’s barrel. Talk about evil eyes.
“That gun’s jammed,” I say.
Though even a broken weapon is disconcerting at this proximity and angle--that black hole smells like eternity--my tone carries a certain hint of superiority. I mean, I pulled that shotgun’s trigger. It didn’t work. It’s not like I’m bluffing.
Why is he smiling?
“Gun not jammed,” Creeper says. “No shells in chamber. You have to do this each time.”
He works the shotgun’s pump. Clickity-clack.
I knew that.
The basement’s tomblike silence wraps around me like a shroud.
Employing Gina’s pump-action like a conductor’s baton, Ludwig Von Creeptoven orchestrates me up the basement steps, into the kitchen, and then into Gina’s side yard through a screened kitchen door and wooden back stairs.
On my left is a one-car garage shaped like a mausoleum. On my right, parked in Gina’s hosta and rock-lined cement driveway, a red Buick LaSabre waits for us like a fire-engine. The excited chatter of morning birdcalls emanates from the evergreens that separate Gina from her neighbors.
I love that I knew all along it was a pump-action shotgun, then forgot I had to pump it. By way of excuses, I can only say I never fired any kind of shotgun before. Plus I wouldn’t be the first stockbroker to panic in that God-awful situation. I mean, we jump out windows because our stocks go down.
I am disappointed, though. I thought I was doing so much better. Calm under fire and all that.
Creeper urges me toward the LaSabre’s trunk. A single raven squawks at us from the top of a red maple with just-emerging leaves. The bird’s oily black coat shines iridescent in the morning’s new sunlight. The sky glows bright gold.
Creeper makes me wrap my ankles in duct tape, seal my mouth with the same stuff, then stick my hands behind me so he can wrap my wrists. My body automatically leans forward, adjusting for the weight of my arms behind me. My first plan in these situations is always cheerful cooperation.
When he pops the Buick’s trunk, I resist too late and Creeper easily pushes me inside the tight compartment. Going down, I bang my head on the trunk hinge.
Creeper lifts my feet inside and slams the lid. The compression of air pops my ears. Total darkness engulfs me, like I’m inside a steel coffin.
The engine starts. Wonder where we’re going? Wonder why Creeper didn’t kill me right here?
God, it’s miserable being taped up like this. No scratching or nose-wiping. Noxious gases choke my lungs. So claustrophobic.
At least the LaSabre sports a decent-size trunk. All the burlap in here makes for a reasonably soft ride, too.
After an hour’s drive, Creeper lifts me out of the trunk and stands me up. We’re back in New Jersey at some private marina in Leonardo or Atlantic Highlands. I can see Sandy Hook directly across the water. The salty smell of the ocean invigorates my mood. Maybe we’re going fishing.
He cuts the tape around my ankles and walks me out on a wooden pier. Oh, boy. The crack of dawn’s a perfect time to bait fish. And those burlap bags he brought along from the trunk must be some kind of blanket to keep us warm. It’s going to be cold out there on Sandy Hook Bay.
Leading me to a docked skiff, the picture suddenly becomes clear. In the bottom of the boat lies a pile of lead weights and heavy linked chain.
Only four more chapters left of BIG MONEY. Tune in next weekend.