Sunday, March 24, 1991

The Bomb

I'd have to say this is one of the first stories I ever wrote that I thought was cool and definitely an original "Joe Puente." I've always been proud of it, even today, especially when I describe it to someone and they give me a double take before they ask, "You wrote this?" I've also since worked on and off on a screen adaptation that deviates a great deal from the original tone of the work but I figure that since I wrote the original story, I can change it however I darn well please. I think I'll change the title for the movie though, for a couple of reasons: 1) "The Bomb" has since become a clichŽd expression for something really cool and it fizzled fairly quickly as a euphamism... not quick enough for my tastes. 2) When a movie is a faliure at the box office, they usually say it bombed. Who's going to say, "I'm going to see 'The Bomb' at the movies," when the immediate response would be, "Why waste your money on seeing a bomb?"

There's a bomb in my hand, But I can't let go of it. You see, if I do... it'll explode. I messed with the wrong people, and they knew their stuff... their drugs, their money, their enemies and, of course, how to take care of them.

I must admit, they're good. All they said was catch... and I did.

"All right, Jimmy, let's go," said the first man. Jimmy walked out of the hangar. The thug took a long evil look into Robert's face and with a sardonic smile said, "What ever you do, don't let go."

I haven't let go either, for the past five hours.

Let me describe the bomb for you. Judging from the malleability when I first took hold of it, it seems to be made of some sort of plastic explosive, probably C 4. They'd be able to get a hold of some. It's completely surrounded by a black, plastic membrane like that on some microwave ovens. This is probably the switch. I can feel the detonator between the small and ring fingers of my left hand.

The device itself is about the size of a tennis ball. If I know explosives, that's enough C 4 to torch a small apartment, and everything in it.

Robert, what have you gotten yourself into? You screwed with the Mob, and they screwed you.

What time is it?

It was about 9:25 AM when Robert got the phone call.

"Mr. Erickson?" the voice asked.

Robert didn't recognize the voice; it was male with a slight Italian accent.

Robert responded, "Yes?"

"I believe we have some unfinished business to take care of."

Robert felt the adrenaline pumping through his veins, "What sort of business?" he asked.

"The kind that involves some property of mine."

"Who is this?"

"Never mind who this is!" he paused as if to calm down, "Where's my snow?"

"What are you talking about?"

"You know damn well what I'm talking about."

He sure did. Robert licked his lips with a dry tongue, "What do you want?"

"You ask a lot of questions, Mr. Erickson. Meet me at the abandoned hangar out on the west side in twenty minutes, or we're coming to get you." The phone went dead.

God, my hand's getting tired. How long has it been? 3:34. Another twenty five minutes or so, and I'll be hitting six hours. How long can I hold out? I've been in this hanger all day. After they gave me the bomb, they hung around outside for about an hour, then left.

Robert worked at a law firm, and was very well to do. He was a bachelor, so there was no one to welcome him home at night... except for his cat.

He pulled up to the old hangar in his BMW. It was supposed to have been torn down about eighteen years earlier, but a group of people from a local Smithsonian affiliate had fought to keep it up and won. A caretaker was supposed to keep the place in shape about every month, but he learned that his employers came by for inspection about every six months, so he did the work accordingly. There was a good layer of dirt and dust on the surrounding pavement and the tread of the BMW's tires left a near perfect impression. Dandelions and tufts of Devil Grass broke free of their black prison
of tar and gravel all around the parking lot.

Robert stopped the car by a light post that was being choked at its base by some incipient Ivy. He was about twenty yards from the hangar; on the other side of it would be the runway, which was probably in worse condition than the parking lot.

He stepped out onto the dirty asphalt and checked his watch: 9:45, right on time. But where's the man who was on the phone? He slammed the door and walked over to a commemorative plaque in front of the hangar entrance. It was titled, "Clark Field." He read it slowly. What a bunch of B.S., he thought. His watch read 9:50. He read the plaque twice more to pass the time.

"Come on, it's ten o'clock. Where are you?" he said, "you're late."

"No, we're not," said the voice as Robert spun around to see the man. About ten feet behind him was another in a gray silk suit which seemed to hang on him. He was sickly looking with a receding hairline, and was carrying an aluminum briefcase.

The first man, whom Robert had spoken to on the telephone, was shorter and had a full head of brown hair. His face was round yet handsome. Robert felt he had seen him before.

"Gentlemen," said Robert.

"I doubt you have it with you," said the first man.

"Have what?"

"Don't start that with me again," He looked to the side in mild frustration, then back at Robert with a hideous smile, "Where's the snow?"

"I don't have it."

"Don't give me that crap, man. Where is it?"

"I told you already, I don't have it. And how would you know anyway.?"

"I was there when you took it... right after our man had his accident." Then, Robert remembered. He caught a glimpse of the man putting a gun into his coat across the street from a "car accident." Robert went to help the victim who lay in a bloody heap in the front seat of the car. he then found a large amount of Cocaine in the open trunk. He took it.

"You call a bullet to the head an accident?"

"Forget the details, man. He screwed up, and we just rectified his mistake. Now where's the Coke?"

"It's gone."

"Don't tell me you snorted it all!"

"No, I turned it into the cops... anonymously," he lied.

"But how much?" he said in a sinister tone."

"It doesn't matter now." Robert's hands were shaking.

The first man turned to the other, "Jimmy." Jimmy pulled out a Tech 9 from under his coat and pointed it at Robert, who started sweating.

"Inside," said the first man. Robert raised his arms, turned slowly, and walked through the hangar door. Inside were a few dusty old airplanes with their own explanatory plaques. Robert walked to the open center of the building where he was told to stop.

"So, when did you guys get here? I thought I was early," Robert would say anything to postpone the inevitable.

"Turn around," said the first man. Robert did so and put his arms down cautiously. Jimmy responded to a look from the first man, and set the brief case down gently on a nearby bench. He opened it up as the first man walked over. He picked up a shiny black ball from the case. He held it between his right thumb and middle finger at points marked on the ball. He looked to Robert and said, "Think fast!" Robert caught it with his left hand. The black plastic crinkled under his grip.

"It works like an explosive booby trap," said the first man, "It takes one move to turn it on, then another to set it off."

Well, I guess this is how I'm going to die. In an old airplane hanger from a
mysterious fiery explosion. I can't drive away, my tires are flat. I guess Jimmy tried to scare me into letting go of the bomb by blowing out my radials, but I expected as much. But you know, I don't think I want to die. Not yet, anyway, and certainly not here. I'll go out with a bang alright, but I won't go alone. I'm going to take that king pin with me.

Robert looked around for something to brace his hand, anything. He happened upon a tool box in the far corner of the hanger. He opened it with his free hand and started rummaging around. He found a roll of duct tape under a bag of six penny nails and pulled off about an eight inch strip with his teeth, then wrapped it as tight as he could around his left hand. Now for the moment of truth. He was going to relax his hand, if the tape wasn't tight enough, he'd die. If it was, he planned on dying with company. He relaxed... nothing. He was tempted to stretch it, but if he did, then that was it. He had to move fast.

Robert stepped out of the hanger and looked around... nothing. He walked over to his car and opened the driver's side door. He bent over and pulled the trunk release lever. Then he walked to the back of the car, and opened it. Searching with his free hand, he pulled up the floor plate, "At least they didn't shoot the spare," he said sarcastically and grabbed a wrinkled tan overcoat he saw stuffed into a corner. He opened a small box and pulled out a paper bag. In it was a small .22 caliber pistol... unloaded. Robert tore around the box looking for ammunition. There was none to be found. Oh, well, he thought, at least I can bluff.

He struggled to put on the coat. When he did, he stuffed his left hand into the coat pocket, and left it there.

Robert walked briskly toward town. He thumbed it for about a mile, until he was picked up by an old hippy in a beat up, Chevy convertible.

Throughout the ride, he tried to think of where the first man would go. Then he remembered the accident. It was outside of a high class restaurant. There was no guarantee he was there, but Robert had a hunch. He asked the hippy to take him there.

The Chevy pulled up in front of the restaurant and Robert got out. He pulled a fifty from his pocket and gave it to the hippy.

"Hey, thanks, man," he said.

"No problem," said Robert, and he went in.

Robert walked over to a small podium with a reservation book on it. He scanned the room, hoping. Then Robert saw him.

"Can I help you, sir?" asked the host.

"Oh, yes,"said Robert in mild surprise, "Could you tell me that man's name?" he pointed to him, "Over there."

"Certainly, that's Mr. Vincent." The host turned back to Robert and asked, "Why do you wish to know?"

"He gave me a gift this morning, and I wanted to return the favor. May I speak with him?"

"I don't see why not, go right ahead."

"Thank you very much."

Vincent was sitting alone in a small rear booth. On the way over, Robert grabbed a menu with his free hand. He opened it and stood it up on the end of Vincent's table and sat down, "Hey, Vincent."

Vincent looked up startled. Now he felt scared, "What are you doing here?"

Robert pulled out the pistol and held it behind the menu, "Get up." Vincent did so, and then Robert put the empty gun into his pocket, yet kept it pointed at Vincent, "Outside."

Vincent walked through the restaurant and its unsuspecting patrons, "Where's the bomb," he whispered to Robert, who was right behind him.

"In my pocket, so don't try anything."

"You'll die, too, you know."

"I know, but if I wasn't going to die, I wouldn't be wasting my time here with you." They walked through the door and out onto the street, still lit by the sun in the westward sky. The lamps wouldn't kick on for another half hour. Vincent tried to run for it, but Robert caught up with him in the middle of the street. He freed his left hand and gave Vincent a bear hug from behind. Vincent tried to bend over so he could break free, but Robert opened his left hand...