by woodmanone

Copyright© 2012 by woodmanone

Action/Adventure Story: A young man's decision changes his life

Tags: Romance   Crime   Drama  

There are no descriptive sex scenes in this story. So what's new? Same ole, same ole for my work.

Constructive comments, emails and critiques are requested and much appreciated.

Thank you for taking the time to read my story and I hope you enjoy it.

"Don't hit me. Please, for God's sake don't hit me," Jerry Smith begged. The man Jerry was pleading with was Ben Stillman, known as Big Ben on the street. The nickname was due to Ben's size, he was 6' 6. If he'd had been shorter, he would have been called stocky; he weighed 270. Instead, he was considered muscular and not someone to mess with.

Ben was holding Jerry off the ground with one of his big hands around the neck because his boss, Moe Farrell, had ordered him to collect the money owed to Moe by Jerry. Moe was among other things, a loan shark. He was also the boss of a small time criminal gang on the south side of St. Louis. His 'gang' was involved in loan sharking, protection, and gambling. Moe didn't have the 'scones' to get into drugs or prostitution, but he wanted to become affiliated with the family that controlled the crime in the city; Moe was a wannabe wise guy.

"Look Jerry, just give me what you owe and I won't have to hit you," Ben said as he sort of shook Jerry like a dog playing tug of war with a piece of cloth.

"But I don't have the full amount," Jerry complained. "Moe will just have to wait."

"Moe's not a very patient man. I don't think he'll like your answer." Ben sat Jerry back on the ground and shook his head. He really didn't want to rough up the little guy, but it was his job. After his parents died in a tenement fire, Moe had taken in the orphaned Ben at age 14 and took care of him. He'd given the boy a place to live, food, and shelter.

Ben had started working for Moe when he was 16; running betting slips from the neighborhood stores and parlors to Moe's office and other things that a young boy could be counted on to do. Ben was now 26 and had been working as an enforcer and collector in Moe's organization for over four years.

Ben sometimes had to get physical with Moe's "clients", but not often; his size was usually enough to convince the delinquents to pay up. When he did have to actually put hands on people, Ben tried to do little permanent damage. He'd several times refused to cut off a man's finger or ear or any number of other gruesome suggestions made by Moe. Although not please with Ben's refusals to go ballistic on customers, Moe had to admit that Ben's collection success rates were the best of the group.

"How much you got Jerry?" Ben asked.

"I've got $2000 and can get another two by next week." There was a small inkling of hope in his voice.

"That will pay last week's and this week's interest," Ben stated. "What about the principal?"

"I can't get that for another month."

"Well you know the drill," Ben said. "Your interest is $1000 a week and if you don't at least keep that paid ... well you and I will have another discussion: a very unpleasant one. Give me the money." He took the $2000 from Jerry and walked to the door.

Just as the little man started to breathe easier, Ben turned. "I'll be back next Friday for the $2000 you talked about."

"But I'll only owe a thousand interest by next week," Jerry protested.

"Consider it a collection fee," Ben replied and almost stomped out of Jerry's shop.

"Damn I hate this job," Ben said aloud as he walked to his car. He continued his complaint silently, People like Jerry make the mistake of borrowing money from guys like Moe and don't think about the tremendously high interest that Moe requires. He snorted a laugh. Moe likes to call it the 'juice' or 'vigorish' because he thinks it makes him sound like a 'wise guy'. I hate hurting people, hell I hate scaring people. Wish Moe would let me work in one of his warehouses or his club or even let me leave, he continued to himself. Don't know where I'd go or what I'd do but I'd find something.

The warehouses and the club were Moe's half hearted attempt to appear legitimate. Said warehouses were actually a profitable enterprise. They accepted, stored, and set up deliveries for any number of goods for many different businesses; the warehouses were also a good way to funnel stolen merchandise.

The club, called "Acquiescence", was what was referred to as a gentleman's club. That meant, several young ladies would dance, barely clad and usually topless for the entertainment of the mostly male clientele. The ladies were also required to get up close and personal with the customers by doing "lap" dances. A job at "Acquiescence" was one step, sometimes a very small step, from prostitution.

Moe had taken over a neighborhood bar from a client that couldn't pay his debt; it was either give up the bar or go to the morgue. After watching a series on cable TV about a crime family back in New Jersey, Moe decided he wanted a club similar to the one pictured on the TV show. That's when "Acquiescence" was born. Moe was thinking about stepping into the world of prostitution and thought the club would be a great place to "show the wares", so to speak.

Ben walked into the little coffee shop that Moe used as an office; he owned both the business and the building that stood on the border of the Hill. "The Hill" was a closely knit conclave on the mid west side of St. Louis made up of mostly Italian immigrants, their restaurants and businesses; Moe thought it put him closer to the big boys. He doesn't stop to think that the family that runs organized crime in St. Louis was bossed by a Swede, named Gustavsson, Ben said to himself. Moe still believes in the old stereotype of Italian mobsters being in charge. Ben laughed as he walked over to the booth in the rear of the shop to face Moe.

"Here's $2000 from Jerry Smith." Ben said and dropped the money on the table in front of his boss. "He'll have another $2000 next Friday. I told him the extra thousand was a collection fee for me having to come after him."

Moe picked up the money, counted it, and handed Ben five one hundred dollar bills. "Good job on the extra fee Ben. When's the jamoke gonna have the principal?" Moe thought talking like a gangster would help him get in with the big boys.

He really sounds like a character in a bad movie, Ben thought, but he didn't dare say it out loud.

"He said it'd take another month," Ben answered and then quickly continued before Moe could protest. "Smith knows that the vig is a $1000 a week. He won't get behind again."

"You're too easy on them Ben."

"I've never failed to get your money when you've sent me after it," Ben defended himself. "It's not always necessary to break fingers, or arms or legs."

"Louie's a tougher collector than you," Moe said.

"Louie beat two guys to death last year and crippled another one with that knife of his. The crippled guy is still in rehab, not able to work or make payments on what he owes you. Where's your money from those three deals? What did that cost you, $40,000?"

"Got another job for you, if you want it," Moe said. He ignored Ben's statement and questions because he didn't like admitting that his pet pit bull had gone overboard and cost Moe money. "On second thought, maybe I better send Louie."

Ben waited for Moe to go on. He's too full of himself not to show me that he's the boss.

"Got a Mortadella that owes me $10,000."

"Mortadella?" Ben asked.

"Means loser," Moe answered looking at Ben as if he were stupid.

"Okay, a guy owes you money. So what else is new?" Ben remarked.

"Problem is this Peter Johnson, died before I could collect."

"Did Louie go talk to him and cost you another ten grand?" Ben asked, not caring if it pissed off Moe.

"Careful Ben. Don't be a smart ass," Moe admonished, trying to look mean. "You're not too big to be slapped down a notch." Moe took a sip of his coffee. "The jabone has a daughter."

Ben's first inclination was to ask Moe who he was going to use for the slap down. Although one of the youngest of Moe's people, he was also one of the toughest when the need arose. Instead he asked, "Jabone?"

"Means asshole. Anyway he has a daughter," Moe tried to continue.

"Where do you come up with this Italian slang and names? You're Irish for God's sake." Moe frowned and Ben held up his hand. "What's the daughter got to do with her old man's debt?"

"Quit interrupting." Ben nodded and Moe continued. "Anyway," Moe stopped, looked at Ben to see if he was going to keep quiet and continued. "I want her brought to me."

"Why?" Ben couldn't help himself, he had to ask.

"Because I'm gonna offer her a chance to pay her father's debt." Moe looked pleased with himself. "Actually I'm gonna tell her, not ask, that she will work in my club until the debt is paid off."

"How old is she?"

"She's legal, 22 or 23, so she can work in the club."

Ben shook his head. "What if she doesn't want to work in that kind of business?"

"Loretta, that's her name by the way, won't have a choice," Moe replied. He leafed through a briefcase and handed Ben a piece of paper. "This is the girl's address. Go pick her up and bring her to me over at Acquiescence this evening."

"Maybe she won't want to come."

"Persuade her Ben. You're good at persuading people to do what I want; that's why I keep you around." Moe waved his hand to dismiss Ben. "See you tonight, anytime after 8."

Ben drove to the girl's address and waited for her to come home from her evening classes at Forest Park Community College. A little investigation had told him that Loretta Johnson was a substitute teacher and was working to get her accreditation as a full time teacher.

When the young woman got out of her little subcompact car at 8 PM and walked to her door, Ben got his first look at her and thought, just the kind of girl that will be a big hit at the club. She's tall, must be 5' 9 and she's got that healthy, voluptuous, type body that makes no mistake that she's all woman; no stick figure, runway model type here. That long blond hair and big brown eyes don't hurt either, Ben finished his thought.

I don't like this one little bit, he said to himself and he walked to intercept the girl. "Loretta Johnson?" Ben asked as he got close to her.

Loretta turned and looked at the hulk of a man talking to her. "I don't know you," she responded and quickened her pace toward her door.

"My boss, Moe Farrell, wants to see you," Ben said and stepped between the girl and her door.

"I don't know him either. Please leave me alone," Loretta replied.

"Miss Johnson, you don't have a lot of choice in the matter; you need to come with me."

Before he could say any more, Loretta pulled a spray canister from her purse and pointed it at Ben. He moved with a speed that surprised most because of his size and grabbed the canister from her. Looking down at it he shook his head.

"Were you going to spray me with Mace?" He asked and smiled at her. Ben was impressed that the girl was willing to fight to protect herself."

"Yes I was, and I'll cut you if you don't leave me alone." Loretta threatened Ben; holding a box cutter with the blade extended.

"Miss Johnson, I'm sorry but you're going with me. Even if I'm bleeding, you're still going with me." Ben took a step back away from her and added, "I promise that nothing will happen to you."

"Who is this Moe Farrell and why does he want to see me?"

"Your father owed him a lot of money, $10,000, when he passed away and now Moe wants you to pay the debt."

"I don't have that kind of money. I'm a substitute teacher and a college student."

"I guess that's what Moe wants to talk to you about," Ben told her. The more I think about it, the more I'm not real happy with my part in this, Ben thought.

Loretta shook her head; both in denial and refusal. "I'm not going. Leave me alone or I'll call the cops," she said as she took out her cell phone.

Ben sighed, reached out, and took the phone away from her. "That wouldn't be a good thing Miss Johnson: and yes, you are coming with me. You can walk or I'll carry you, but you are coming with me."

The girl's shoulders slumped; she knew she had no chance against this giant of a man. Nodding her head, she let him lead her to his car. Once in the car she leaned against the passenger door trying to stay as far away from Ben as she could. Loretta stared at the floor board until the car stopped. She raised her head and looked at the building where they had stopped.

"But this is a ... a..." Loretta stuttered.

"A gentlemen's club is the most genteel name Miss Johnson," Ben replied. He saw the look on her face and thought I'd better prepare her for her meeting with Moe. "I think Moe's plan is for you working here until you pay off your father's debt and the Vig."


"It's the interest on the loan your father took from Moe." Ben hesitated and added, "The Vig is a $1000 a week; right now that amounts to another $3000."

Moe looked up as Ben escorted Loretta into his office. Even with the door closed you could feel the bass vibration from the driving music from the club. There was a large two way window that allowed whoever was in the office to watch what was going on out in the club.

Loretta looked up just in time to see a dancer do a split while hanging upside down holding onto a brass pole; her rear end faced the window and the thong she wore did little to cover her butt.

"Miss Johnson, have a seat," Moe said and motioned to a chair in front of his desk. When Loretta still stood there, he almost shouted, "Sit down." She sat down and turned her attention from the dancer to Moe.

"Maybe you better study that girl Miss Johnson; that's going to be your job. Well, at least until you pay off your father's debt."

"Are you crazy? I won't do that, I can't do that."

"Oh, you'll do it, and more," Moe said in a menacing voice. "Or else."

"Or else what?"

"I'll have Louie here persuade you to see things my way," Moe said motioning toward the other man in the room. "Louie likes that sort of thing."

Loretta saw a man step out of the shadows toward where she was sitting and shuddered at his appearance. She could almost feel a wave of anticipation rolling off him.

Louie was a close to a direct opposite of Ben. Where Ben was tall at 6'6 and muscular, Louie barely topped 5'10 and was thin and angular. Although Ben moved extremely fast when called for, he was a hulking presence, like a bear. Louie was almost gaunt with very quick, jerky movements, like a weasel. Ben had dark hair, worn close cropped to an inch and a half and his eyes were a deep dark brown. His tanned complexion just added to his resemblance to a big Kodiak bear. The only mar to his rugged good looks was a 3 inch scar over his right eye; the result of an altercation between Ben and one of Moe's unhappy clients.

Louie's hair was so blond it looked white and in spite of a receding hairline it was worn long, hanging down his back in a pony tail. His very pale, white, complexion coupled with the hair made him look like an Albino; a resemblance that was proven when he removed his sunglasses and stared at Loretta with red colored eyes. He too had a scar but his ran across his neck, almost from ear to ear. That scar was a result of a knife fight when Louie was much younger. He'd killed his opponent and still carried the knife he'd take out of the dead man's hand.

"Hello Miss Johnson," Louis greeted the girl with a high pitch, scratchy voice. He bowed, pulled a flick knife, the souvenir from his youth, out of his rear pocket and started cleaning his fingernails. "I look forward to working with you."

"You'll begin tomorrow night; as a dancer to start with," Moe ordered the girl.

"What do you mean to start with?" Loretta asked.

"There are other things you can do to earn money."

"You mean become a prostitute."

"Prostitute is such an ugly word," Moe replied. "I like to call my girls escorts." He saw the stubborn look on Loretta's face. "It's your choice Miss Johnson; but either way you will work for me until your father's debt is paid.

Moe pushed a button on the intercom. "Summer, bring some costumes into my office," he said. "About a size 10, I think." He looked at Loretta and she nodded.

"How long do I have to work for you?"

"Until the debt is paid, including the juice," Moe answered. "The loan was for $10,000, the weekly vig is $1000. I expect the vig and at least $500 toward the principal each week."

"That's $1500 a week," Loretta protested. "I can't make that kind of money dancing."

"Then you'll just have to work longer or become more than a dancer. Any week you don't pay the vig, it will be added to the debt." Moe sat back in his office chair. "And don't even think about the cops; Louie doesn't like cops. Do you Louie?"

Louie gave Loretta an evil grin, shook his head, and flicked open his knife again. "No, I surely don't. They make me all crazy and stuff."

A short, almost plumb young woman came into the office carrying a small duffle bag. Moe motioned to Loretta and the girl put the bag on the floor next to her chair.

"Summer, this is Loretta," Moe said. "She starts dancing tomorrow night. Show her the ropes; you know where she can dress, how much makeup, and how to treat the customers. And think of a stage name for her; Loretta isn't sexy enough." Turning back to Loretta he added, "Today is Thursday; I'll give you the weekend to get used to your new position. Hell, I'll even cut this week's vig just to show that I'm not such a bad guy. See you tomorrow night at 6."

Moe pulled a credit card out of his wallet and handed it to Ben, "Take her shopping tomorrow and get her some more clothes; you know the type she needs. "Don't worry Miss Johnson; I'll foot the bill for them; after all you'll be using them to make me money."

Moe opened a ledger on his desk, waving Loretta out of the office. Ben and Summer followed her.

"How about Tawny?" Summer asked Loretta as they left the office.


"Tawny; you know for a stage name," Summer answered. "With all that blond hair and those big eyes, it fits." Seeing the troubled look on Loretta's face, Summer's eyes filled with compassion. She had once been where Loretta was now; a good woman forced into a type of life she didn't want. Summer continued, "Don't worry honey, it's not all bad. You can make some really good money and most of the men aren't really that bad; most are just lonely."

Ben waved over a taxi and handed the shocked girl into the back seat. "I'll pick you up at 10 AM to go shopping; be ready to go," he said. He handed the cab driver a fifty. "Take her home and help her with her bag." Ben returned to Moe's office.

"How about cutting her some slack?" Ben asked. His voice was close to a challenge.

"Why should I?" Moe replied.

"C'mon Moe, it's not her fault her father was stupid. Cut the vig and let her pay off the loan." Ben's voice was milder.

"I think she can make a lot of money for me."

"Not for long; she'll make enough to pay you off in three or four months," Ben argued.

"Not with all the charges she'll have to pay to work here," Moe said with a grin. "You know, shift fees, dressing room rental and payment for the drugs she uses."

"She doesn't do drugs," Ben protested.

"She will before the month is over. We'll slip her a little, just to help her out you understand, and then she'll go into escort work to make more money."

"You're an asshole Moe," Ben said angrily.

"Louie doesn't like it when people call me names, Ben," Moe cautioned. Louie stepped around the desk and smiled at Ben. "I'd hate to have him get upset with you."

Ben's smile made him look like a big bear even more. He motioned to Louie, "C'mon Whitey, you're an asshole too."

Louie took a step toward Ben as he opened the knife again. "Louie, behave yourself," Moe said. "Ben just do your job and let me worry about Miss Johnson."

Ben shook his head and left. He knew arguing with Moe was a waste of time. The guy thinks he's a real hood, now that he's getting into prostitution, Ben thought. Maybe it's time I find another line of work.

Loretta answered Ben's knock at 10 AM on the dot. He motioned for her to follow him to his car. Loretta was wearing a sundress that buttoned down the front, and sandals.

"You look nice," Ben offered as he started the car.

"I thought it would be easier to try on things wearing a dress than with jeans," Loretta answered. Her voice was soft and sad.

"You won't be trying on clothes and such this morning," Ben said. Loretta gave him a puzzled look. "You have any money put aside?"


"Money. Do you have any saved?"

"I've got about two thousand dollars in an account and another five hundred in my checking account. Why? Moe said I didn't have to start paying him until next week."

"Which bank?" Ben asked.

"Tower Grove National."

"Good, Moe uses the same bank." Ben saw the puzzled look from Loretta and smiled. "You're not going to go to work for Moe. We're gonna hit the bricks."


"You and I are going to your bank and withdraw all your money. While I'm there, I'll get a cash advance on Moe's credit card and then we'll disappear." Ben smiled and added, "I've already got all my money, so between us we should be able to hide until I can figure something out."

"You're going to help me?" Loretta's voice had life in it for the first time since the meeting with Moe. "Why?"

"Loretta, I'm a lot of things, some, hell most of it bad, but I can't and won't be a part of turning you into a whore. You know that's Moe's plan for you don't you? Anyway, I'll help you get away from him. Now let's go back into your apartment and put together a bag for you. Then we'll hit the bank and get the hell out of Dodge."

As Loretta packed, much too much to Ben's way of thinking, she asked, "But won't he be upset with you helping me?"

"Upset? Hell, he'll be so pissed off he might have a stroke; at least we can hope so."

Loretta looked at Ben with a new hope. "He'll punish you for double crossing him, won't he?" It was a statement more than a question.

"He'll see it as more than a double cross; he'll see it as a betrayal." Ben quickly explained how Moe took him in and took care of him. He shook himself. "We won't use credit cards because they can be traced; we'll have to live off the grid. Moe doesn't know about this car so he can't track us that way."

The car was a non-descript Ford Taurus, like thousands of others on the road. But, Ben had put a new engine, new suspension, and made it the most powerful Tarsus on the road. It would take a very powerful vehicle to keep up with it.

Ben's super Taurus pulled into the parking lot of the bank. "You go clean out your accounts. Leave a few bucks in there so there's no report of them being closed."

Loretta gave Ben a questioning look. "Moe's got an in at this bank and we don't want him knowing that you're running before we get a chance to put some miles between us. I'll go see Brinks, the bank manager, and get as much money on Moe's credit card as I can."

"Won't he question you using Moe's card?"

"Naw, when Moe needs a little extra cash, he sends me to get it. I'll get $20,000 or so, Moe does it all the time. Brinks will separate the amount out over three or four transactions and spread them out over three or four weeks. He won't suspect a thing."

"Why do that?"

"Any transaction for $10,000 or more is reported to the Feds, Homeland Security, and bank regulators. This way we won't run into that limit. I'd like to get more but I don't want to do anything unusual; can't take that chance. When I'm done, I'll meet you in the lobby."

"Are you sure the manager will help you?"

"Yeah. Brinks embezzled some money from a couple of accounts and lost it in the stock market. If the info got out Brinks would be ruined. His job and his reputation would be trashed; he'd also go to jail. He came to Moe and Moe paid it back. Now Moe owns Brinks and just about runs the bank."

"How much this time?" Brinks asked after greeting Ben.

"Twenty," Ben answered. "Moe's got a deal coming up and he needs cash."

In less than fifteen minutes the transaction was completed. Ben put the four stacks of $100 bills in his jacket pockets. Each banded stack contained fifty bills, totaling $5000. Ben had requested this division of the money to make it easier to carry.

As Ben left Brink's desk, the bank manager watched him walk away. He saw Ben join a pretty young lady in the lobby and leave the bank. As Ben had said, this transaction wasn't unusual, but Moe normally called and set it up before Ben got there. Maybe I ought to call Moe, Brinks thought. He picked up the phone and punched in Moe's private line.

"Hey Moe, its Tony Brinks. I gave Ben the money you requested and wanted to know if there is anything else I can do for you."

"What money?" Moe asked.

"The $20,000 you sent Ben for," Brinks answered. Then worried he'd done something wrong he asked, "Isn't that what you wanted?"

"Oh yeah, my mind was on something else," Moe replied. "Thanks Tony, talk to you later."

Now why would Ben get cash without my say so? Moe asked himself. He was sitting in the coffee shop and he thought for a couple of minutes. He called Ben's home and then his cell and didn't get an answer. "Louie get your ass in here," he yelled. Louie came out of a dark back office.

"Get over to Ben's and see why he's not answering his phone. When you see him, tell him to get his ass in here." Because of Ben's recent mood and his bit of disrespect, Moe had a bad feeling.

Less than an hour later Louie called. "Ben's split," he told his boss. "His car is still here, but some of his clothes are gone and so is his shaving stuff. That .357 cannon he keeps in his desk is gone too."

"Son of a bitch, ' Moe responded. "Get over to that Johnson girl's place and see if he's there. Call me from there."

The next call was more of the same. "Broad's gone too; dresser drawers left open with nothing much in them. Empty hangers in the closet; looks like someone took off in a hurry."

"Get hold of the guys and tell them to find Ben and that broad," Moe ordered. His voice was angry. "Call me when you find them."

Nice town, Ben thought. He was standing on the porch of a rental cabin on the outskirts of Poplar Bluff. He and Loretta had been there for a week; they'd made the 160 mile drive from St. Louis in a little over 5 hours. Ben had been careful not to break any speed limits but he wasted little time getting out of St. Louis.

Poplar Bluff, known to its residence and people in nearby communities as "The Bluff", was a large town or a small city, depending on who was talking, with a population of about 17,000. It was close to a recreational lake, Lake Wappapello, which brought thousands of tourists through the community. There were several small industries but it was mostly a farming and tourism community. Big enough to have all you need, but still has the small town feel, Ben continued his thought. I wouldn't mind staying here for a while.

"You can come in now," Loretta called from inside the cabin. The cabin had one large room that doubled as a bedroom and living space. The bathroom was small and didn't give you much room for anything but the necessities. Ben had stepped outside while Loretta did whatever it was that women do to get ready. When he entered the cabin, Loretta had her back to the door. She turned around and started buttoning the man's type shirt she was wearing.

Ben could see Loretta's toned, tanned stomach and the light beige bra she was wearing. "Oh, sorry. I thought you said to come in," Ben stammered.

"I did." Seeing the big man turn red she laughed. "C'mon Ben, you'd see more of me at the pool or beach."

"Yeah, but we ain't at the beach. You shouldn't tease me like that Retta," Ben said with a grin.

"Retta? I like that," she said smiling. "But you wouldn't hurt me; you're just a big teddy bear."

"Even teddy bears have teeth and know how to bite a little girl."

They both laughed and walked to a local family owned BBQ restaurant. "Can we go to a club tonight," Retta asked. "Maybe get a drink and dance a little."

"I don't dance," Ben replied shaking his head. Retta pursed her lips in a pout. "Okay," Ben relented. "We'll go for a couple of drinks and one dance; but only one."

After dinner they went to the lounge at the Holiday Inn, Ben didn't feel like braving the probably boisterous crowd at one of the local bars. Ben and Retta were sitting in a booth where Ben was recovering from the six dances he'd just done. The effect that Retta had on him when he held her close bothered him.

Last thing we need is to get involved with each other, Ben thought. I don't know where I'm going to end up or what I'm going to do. Moe won't let it go. He'll have Louie and others looking for me until he catches me; or I might get tired of running and look up Moe and settle things. Either way, I'm not a good prospect for a woman. Besides she probably doesn't think of me that way. I'm just the guy that's helping her in a bad situation.

Ben looked up as someone entered the lounge and stiffened. He noticed a man who could have been a movie extra playing a mob guy. The man had a swarthy complexion with dark oily, slicked back, hair. His suit wasn't in the best fashion; it was a cheap knock off of in a shiny Sharkskin material. Looks like what he is, Ben thought. I don't doubt he works for Moe, but I don't know him; he must be hired muscle.

Ben turned his back to the entrance and pulled Retta in close so she was hidden from the man's view. "Don't look now but I think Moe has found us," Ben told her. When the wanna be mobster turned his back and walked toward the bar, Ben pulled Retta out of the booth and escaped through another entrance to the lounge.

"Does that scary looking guy work for Moe?" Retta asked. "And how did they find us?"

"Yeah, I'm sure he's looking for us. Moe probably checked the airlines and bus stations and didn't find us so he sent word to all the towns of any size to keep an eye out for us."

"His gang or network or whatever you call it is that big?"

"No, he can barely hold on to his neighborhood in the city. But he has contacts from all over who owe him favors. That's probably what that guy is." Ben hurried Retta back to their cabin. "Makes no difference, we have to move. Get packed."

As Retta packed her things, Ben put on a shoulder holster holding his Dan Wesson .357 revolver. It was one of the few things his father had left him and besides being a deadly weapon it had a sentimental value to him. He also put a Colt 1911.45 pistol inside the waistband of his jeans in the small of his back.

Walking to their car, Ben saw another vehicle pull to a skidding stop about 50 feet away. Two men jumped out and snapped off shots at Ben and Retta. Before they could fire again, Ben pulled the .357 and fired at one of the men, who was hiding behind the open car door. That man fell to the ground, out of the fire fight; the other one dove behind his car trying to make himself as small a target as possible. Ben fired two shots through the other car's radiator and into the engine block. He pushed the shocked Retta into the Taurus and throwing gravel from the tires, tore out of the cabin's parking area. He constantly checked the review mirror for pursuit. Thirty minutes later, driving through the heavily wooden country side, Ben took a small side road and pulled to a stop.

"Why are we stopping?" Retta asked in surprise.

"Think I'd better do something about the bleeding," Ben answered and pointed to his side and his blood stained shirt. "Those guys were really good or they got lucky. Either way, I got hit."

Retta took over and made him get out of the car. Using the headlights so she could see she made Ben take off his shirt and examined the wound. Looks a lot worse than it is Retta thought. It just creased his side. She washed the injury with bottled water and then used one of her T shirts to bandage the wound.

"That'll hold it until we can get to a drug store," Ben said.

They got back into the car and drove almost due west. Later that evening they ended up at an older place, named Smalley's, in the small town of Van Buren. The small motel wasn't of the strip type places and rented cabins, for those who wanted more privacy, by the night, the week, or the month.

Retta made Ben lay down on the bed and in spite of his protest made preparations to walk to the drug store they'd seen about two blocks away on the main street. Before she left she pushed her long blond hair up under a baseball cap, put on a one of Ben's jackets, and donned sunglasses. The jacket hung on her, disguising her body, and with her hair covered by the cap, it was hard to see that she was a woman.

The drugstore was a typical small town, mom and pop, business. It had something Retta had never seen in person; an actual soda fountain which served ice cream sundaes, malts, and ice cream sodas. She smiled as she picked out the things she needed to treat Ben's injury. After paying for the medical supplies, Retta chuckled and walked over to the soda counter. She bought two banana splits to go and returned to Smalley's.

"If you're a good boy when I take care of your wound, I'll give you this banana split," Retta told Ben with a big smile. "If not, I'll just have to eat both of them."

"Yes ma'am, I'll be good," Ben replied returning her smile.

As they were eating the ice cream Retta asked, "How did those men find us?"

"Just because Moe is a sleaze bag, don't think he's stupid. He probably put the word out to contacts in every major city and town in Missouri and Illinois." Ben shook his head. "It was just our bad luck to be spotted at the lounge."

"What do we do now?"

"We'll lay low here for a few days if we can. Van Buren is too small for Moe to have anyone here. Those guys saw the car and maybe got the license number so I'll have to get rid of it." Ben saw the worried look on Retta's face. "Don't get all freaked out, we'll be fine. Now let me finish my ice cream."

The next morning Ben drove the Taurus to the one gas station in town. He'd noticed four or five vehicles parked close to the main street with "For Sale" signs in their windows. Ben walked around the cars and stopped in front of an older Chevy pickup. The truck's body had a few dents and scrapes but there was no rust. A man, almost as big as Ben, came out of the gas station.

"Howdy. I'm Red Sinclair," he said. "That truck don't look like much, but she's a real runner."

Ben motioned toward the hood and opened it when Red nodded. Inside was an engine that hadn't come with the truck from the factory. To Ben's practiced eye he could tell by the big V8 that the truck was a real sleeper. "Can I start it?" Ben asked. Red nodded again and Ben started the truck. The roar of the powerful engine told Ben that he was right, this wasn't a farm truck.

"Truck belonged to the Chilton boy, Tommy, fore he went off to Iraq," Red explained. "He put a lot of time and money into that truck. New engine, transmission, suspension and such. Planned on doing the body and interior we he came back." Red sighed and stared at the truck for a few seconds. "Boy never made it home. Heard tell it was what they call an IED, you know, Improvised Explosive Device, got the Hummer he was riding in. Tommy's dad gave me the truck to sell; said havin it around the house reminded him that his boy wasn't comin home."

"I'm interested Mr. Sinclair," Ben said. "But I've got that car over there I need to get factored into the deal."

"Red's good enough. Let's take a look at your Ford. Maybe we can do a little horse tradin."

Red walked to the Taurus, reached into the window, pulled the hood release and opened the hood. Ben started the engine and joined Red at the front of the car.

"From the looks and sound of it, reckon you know a bit about engines and such yourself," Red offered. Ben nodded. "Okay son, what's the story. You want to trade a three year old Ford, with a souped-up motor and low mileage for a ten year old truck. Don't make good sense."

Ben looked hard at Red for about ten seconds. One of Ben's talents was being able to read people; it came in handy when he was collecting for Moe. He decided Red Sinclair was a good man and made a decision.

"Mr. Sinclair, er Red, it's like this," Ben said explained the situation. After five minutes of talking Ben said, "You can make a lot of money by calling Moe Farrell in St. Louis and telling him where we are."

Red grinned. "I run my little station here, close it down to go fishin or huntin when I want to and ifin the wife wants to go to The Bluff or up to St. Louis we just go. Got about everything I need or want; blood money won't make my life any better. Let's step inside and see ifin we can't make a deal."

Motioning Ben to a chair next to a beat up old desk, Red poured Ben a cup of coffee. "Now what did y'all have in mind? Red asked sitting across from Ben.

"Don't really know Mr. Sincl ... Red. It just came to mind that we need to change cars. What's Mr. Chilton asking for the truck?"

"That Chevy has a Blue Book value of about $6800, but Mr. Chilton said to get rid of it quick." Red paused and said, "Reckon he'd let it go for $6000. That's a good price considering all the work that's been done on it."

"Sounds fair, but I've still got my Ford to get rid of." Ben thought for a few seconds. "Tell you what I'm going to do."

"Wait; let me button down my hip pocket. When a man says that, he's usually goin to try gettin into my wallet," Red replied with a big grin.

"Not this time Red. My Taurus's blue book is about $18000; that's not counting all the work on the drive train and suspension I've done. Give me the truck and $4000 and we'll both make out. You might have to take it to someplace like Poplar Bluff but I'm pretty sure you can get 14 to 15 thousand for my Ford."

C'mon we'll do some paperwork and you can take the truck." Ben hesitated and Red added, "I'll probably forget to send in the paperwork for the new registrations for ten days to two weeks. I'm getting real forgetful in my old age."

Ben grinned and went to his car to get the title and registration. Ten minutes later he drove his "new" old truck back to Smalley's motel. That deal cost me about $8000, Ben thought. But Moe's guys won't look for us in a truck. Ben had another surprise waiting when he entered his cabin.

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