onsdag 4. mai 2016

A Golden Opportunity

by Robert Wood

He pushed the black suitcase lovingly towards me. – Don’t you have dreams, Dresden? -  Not that kind of dreams, I answered. - That is too dangerous for a man like me. An unpretentious man should have unpretentious dreams.

Oslo is a pleasant city, especially if you got work and money. I hadn’t landed a job in ages, but expenses were low and the social security money that tickled into my account kept me going. You would not starve to death, but kept alive on the barren side of the fence where the brownish grass is always wilting – never green.

Nevertheless, I still had enough money to enjoy a beer or five on Fridays. As was my habit, I started at Aker Brygge, a vulgar, expensive tourist trap with an excellent fjord-view and crowds of the filthy rich. I usually finished my weekly pub-crawl in one of the brown cafes at the East-end! Pubs where the beer was cheap and the view was faded prints on cracked plaster walls. And, to be honest… places I could chat up one of the not so young ladies frequenting these waterholes for free drinks and some easy going company for the night. I’m built like a wrestler and uncomplicated by nature, but not without natural charm. And do you ask me where I feel at home .…  it’s in the company of the tired, working class.

It was late August and one of the hot summer evenings only the City of Beggars can boast of. The last rays of sun painted the diesel-fumes crimson as Night started to spread his leather jacket over the metal roofs. The outdoor restaurant at Carl Johan was a strategically place to capture stag parties tourists and pub-crawlers alike. I enjoyed the sight of the painted, sleek animals which walked by the restaurant. They had vacated their office pens for the weekend and were going to paint the city with their fashion conscious hipsters lovers. 

I was already half-way on my Friday night-run when King Alcohol greeted me with a familiar hello. I’m not quite sure, but after the sixth pint a man asked if he could sit down at my table. All the other tables were taken, he said. Of cause I was disappointed that he wasn’t a she, but when he offered to buy me a an expensive micro-brew beer my sense of well being picked up. I like people buying me drinks. More followed quickly on after another, and somehow I don’ remember what happened. Probably we had a long chat about how difficult it was to get a job for a man more than willing to work for a reasonable pay. Whatever else we talked about went down the drain with the rest of the evening.

The grey fog of memories lost did not clear up until noon next day.  Everything was where it should be. The body did not hurt, and when I checked my wallet my cash and card were still there. They seemed to smile, and I smiled back with my best hangover grin. A yellow card with a telephone number was also staring at me, and I guessed that the little piece of cardboard belonged to the dark side of last night. I presumed that the phone number had something to do with the big spender – Wasn’t it something about a job? I asked myself. But since my burnt out shell of a braincase did not bother to respond, I poured myself another cup of coffee hoping for the fog to evaporate.

Half an hour later I heard the tiny click of my two brain-halves connecting again. The card was resting on the kitchen table and without trying to think I grabbed my Galaxy and made the call. I had nothing to lose. After four seconds a unmistakable computer voice rasped a message: - Hello Dresden! Nice evening yesterday!  My assistant, Tiny, will pick you up at three o’clock for your first run. As agreed on last night the pay is ten grand. Ten grand! I had not seen so much money in years. I rose a bit shaky and sat down again just as shaky. What in the world had we agreed on? I couldn’t for the love of my life remember.

Exactly three o’clock my doorbell rang. It was as if somebody nearly succeeded to force the button through the concrete. When I opened the door, I stared directly into the chest of a Norwegian clone of Hulk Hogan. He was not Tiny. He was Grizzly, a human bear in disguise. I looked up and stared into a friendly face that opened into a smile – Dresden! Are you ready?

The old Ford moved law abiding out from the worn-down, concrete jungle where I lived in the outskirts of Oslo and trundled towards the center of Beggar City.  – Today we are going to make a pick up at the Harbour-building. And, as you probably remember from the briefing you got last night, we are usually two in the car. – Yes, I lied without blinking. I hadn’t the faintest idea what the man talked about, but the thought of ten grand spoke for itself. This was a job for Dresden, and I hoped the job didn’t break too many laws. Tiny chatted about nothing and everything. How he had been driving for our boss, Mr. Tony, for several years and that he made decent money from the jobs he undertook. I asked if our work went with a certain risk, but he waved the question away with the lazy gesture of a sleepy bear-paw and answered that safety demanded two well-built fighting men. Besides, I hadn’t been picked because I was good at lifting pints of beer, but because I seemed to be a motivated man with muscles and brain. The way he said it implied that he knew about my past as a security guard and bouncer.

The Harbor-building is a monument over Oslo’s rich, proud past. The building reeks of money and Tiny told the security guard that he would like to see Mr. Parsons. The guard put on his most arrogant smile and answered that all kind of people wanted to see Mr. Parsons, especially after he had become the CEO of a successful oil company. He personally believed that it would be very difficult for us to meet him, if we knew what he meant. Tiny leant over the man, stared down at him and growled: - Call him up, tell him that the movers from Bankers and Stocks are here. Or should we help you move this desk? The massive oak wood whimpered as Tiny’s huge fist applied a human jackhammer pressure. I have never before seen a frightened man dial a number that fast. Besides, we experienced a certain pleasure when Mr. Parsons himself showed up in less two minutes. The oil-man came smiling with extended hand and guided us up to his office. He was long past his prime but he still looked like he knew what he wanted to wring out of this world. An expensive leather case with a steel code lock rested on his mahogany desk. – Please give me the agreed upon code so that I can verify that you are who you say you are, he asked softly without moving his calculating eyes. Tiny scribbled a number on a yellow card of the same kind I had left on my kitchen table, and pushed the card towards Mr. Parsons. The man nodded and indicated that Tiny should pick up the small, but apparently very heavy case. – I rather not hear that the delivery ended up in the wrong hands, he said with a hard smile - Take good care of my golden babies.

The security guard at the entrance got busy looking the other way when we walked out of the Harbour-building. The recipient in a luxury suite at Plaza hotel gave Tiny a new code and when Tiny handed over the leather case the smaller man tipped forward under the weight. Even I could guess that the case contained heavy metal of the non-musical kind.

In the secluded car park under Plaza Tiny handed me a white envelope: - You don’t have to take the Underground home now. You can afford a taxi! he said with a grin. - I call you in the beginning of next week. Mr. Tony wants us to move something for a ship-owner at Bygdøy. I believe the billionaire lives in the same area where the King has his resident. I nodded, got out of the car, watched Tiny drive away and put the money in my wallet. They warmed my heart all the way home.

We drove people and did not ask who they were. We moved discreet and small, but very heavy, attaché cases and did not ask what were in them. The goods we transported were too evaluable to be moved in a taxi. They cases were what one called…. sensitive…. if you know what I mean? Tiny insisted that we did not move drugs, but valuables the rich did not wish to pay tax on and moved to and from safe houses in Austria and Switzerland.

I had become a well paid security tool. I was always sitting in the passenger seat when we were on the job. Once and awhile I looked inquisitive at Tiny. I don’t think he noticed in the stickysweet noise of C & W he loved pumping out of the speakers. This was the only downside and a small miracle that we didn’t get deaf. Anyhow, driving through the streets of Oslo listening to Hank Williams and Dolly Parton worshipping the simple life in the country was surreal. And looking at the giant behind the wheel, I was happy that I was with him and not against him.

One day we transported a beautiful blond and a slender brunette from a well known street address in Oslo west to the best hotel in town. Then we transported several small cases of heavy metal from one storehouse to another. Pleasant, simple jobs.

One week I come to realize how lucky I was with Tiny as partner. We moved another beautifully crafted leather attaché-case from Mr. Parsons. Tiny drove at a leisurely speed towards Hotel Plaza, when a red car suddenly streaked out from an ally and blocked the street. Behind us, a car with tinted glass blocked any attempt to back up. Tiny did not hesitate. He pushed the gas pedal almost through the floor.

To my surprise the old Ford pasted the red car effortlessly against the nearest wall. The doors were crushed and could not be opened from inside by probably well paid henchmen. Then he backed the Ford into the car behind us. Then another forward lightning fast maneuverer past the broken red car. The tinted glass did not attempt to follow. It is difficult to chase anything with your front wheels thirty degrees out of alignment.

Tiny’s only comment was – There are more horsepower under the hood than you can imagine, Dresden, but we have to repair the scratches and give the Ford a makeover. Apparently, somebody has figured out that this car is moving valuables, but they don’t know what. Then he turned up the volume another notch. A sure sign that he was satisfied with himself.

The remark made me wonder what other custom-made surprises were built into the chassis. Two days later I got the answer. Once again we transported the two young, beautiful ladies when a naked man with a shotgun came running out of the house they hurriedly had left but moments ago. A naked man with a shotgun in his hands is no less dangerous than a well-dressed man. The buckshots hammered into the car door and windows when Tiny without apparent haste passed the shooter so close that I could see the blue anger in his eyes. Not one of the shots had penetrated.  – Bulletproof car, Tiny? I asked while I still hang on to my safety belt. – Ummm, he murmured and smiled to the girls in the mirror. – You are in safe hands, girls. I was also glad that I was in his huge, safe hands.

So far, I had had no future contact with the man Tiny called Mr. Tony. I had a clouded memory of the man who had treated me innumerable glasses of foaming beer. The money envelopes showed that he was satisfied with my modest role, and when we one day once more sat face to face, he confirmed my thoughts. – I am satisfied with you, he said with a voice like a purring cat, rubbing his fingers slowly together. – You have shown the necessary cool and discretion we appreciate in this profession. I mumbled something about Tiny doing most of the work, even as I could not hide that I was flattered. – It is not often I meet my hard working transporters personally, said Mr. Tony and studied his nails as if they were made of diamonds. – But the next transport coming up is very important. Tiny and I looked at each other; Wasn’t all the jobs we did important? – One of our customers has certain problems with one of his former business associates. Tiny has reported that you have run into them at an earlier occasion. The goods you shall transport is the most valuable you have moved so far. I do not have to remind you that you are both responsible for a safe delivered to the right recipient.

The building where we picked up the suitcase was not as luxurious as the Harbour building, but the art-designed interior spoke softly of exclusive money. We went through the usual meaningless exchange of niceties and the exchange of codes went smoothly. Shortly afterwards we sat in our repaired Ford. Tiny drove only a couple of minutes before he suddenly turned into an alley. He had a strange smile on his face. A mix of something dreamy and greedy. – I have to have a look this time! Aren’t you curious too? Without waiting for an answer he manipulated the code locks and opened the case slowly. Even before I saw what was inside the golden rays bathed Tiny’s face.

He turned the suitcase towards me: - Haven’t you sometimes dreams, Dresden? – Not this kind of dreams, I answered. – That is too dangerous for a man like me. An unpretentious man should have unpretentious dreams. – But I don’t, barked Tiny, lifting out one of the gold bars. – For five years I have been driving “goods” for the ultra- rich.  I am tired of being their errand boy. I am tired of knocking on kitchen doors. – Close the lid, I said quietly. – Drive on! Tiny closed reluctantly the suitcase and turned the ignition key. A little further up the street I saw how his face suddenly hardened. – I want this gold. And you can have a share of the dream if you wish. I have two seats for Bueno Aires. If you do not accept you leave this car headfirst! Tiny had planned for this.

I was surprised at my own reaction. In a split second my hands twisted the wheel to the right. Tiny did not use a safety belt, and his head kissed the windshield, but I did not waste time wondering how hard Tiny’s head really was.  My legs took control as I grabbed the suitcase, hit the street stumbling and got almost killed by a passing car. Took three halting steps with the way too heavy case before a bloody ham-fist closed around my neck. Then Tiny spun me around and what felt like twenty kilo of grizzly bear knuckles connected with my face.

When I regained consciousness I had a headache that was the twin brother to the one I had after the night on the town with Mr. Tony. My head felt like a cage filled with ferrets sharpening their claws on my cortex. However, that wasn’t the worst. A hand was swabbing my forehead with a cold cloth. Not the dainty hand of a nurse, but a hairy grizzly bear paw.

I opened my eyes and stared straight at the bandaged head of Tiny. I tried to get up, but to no avail. – I’m sorry, he said in a friendly voice. – But I hit the windshield a little bit too hard and lost my temper. I didn’t mean to! You are the first that have managed that. – By all means, I said meekly. A new figure glided into my field of vision. Mr. Tony smiled broadly. – We are very satisfied with what you did, Dresden. - By all means, I answered a second time. All other answers had been scraped out of my cortex the last minute. – You passed the test with flying flags. You were not tempted! You even tried, with great courage and no regards for your own safety, to save our clients’ investment, smiled Mr. Tony. Apparently, he found what had happened amusing. – Didn’t I play my role well, Dresden? rumbled Tiny. – No shit, I said and fainted again.

When I regained consciousness once more, only Tiny filled the room. – Mr. Tony told me to give you this. The envelope was considerably thicker than the ones I used to get after each delivery. –Mr. Tony said that this was probably the best bandage you could get.

Tiny drove me home in the good, old Ford, which thanks to me, needed another paint job. – Let’s hope there is nothing serious. Custom made cars are really expensive to repair. Luckily we got nothing but a few scratches ourselves. He pointed at our bandages. – I call you in two weeks’ time. Mr. Tony has treated us with a vacation. All expenses covered. He dropped me off outside where I lived.

My reward for my loyalty was a kind of freedom. I was give my own custom made car in the disguise of an over the hill Volkswagen. I had become a trusted employee with a very decent pay. It felt nice to sit behind a steering wheel of my own without Tiny and his ever-present Country music. It turned out that Tiny had not had real dreams. Nevertheless, what he and Mr. Tony did not know was that MY dreams were growing for each new attaché-case I safely delivered, and for every lithe woman in the back seat. Temptation was reaching critical mass much faster than I had foreseen.

It had happened ten minutes ago. On the seat beside me, a beautiful burgundy red calf-skin attaché-case lay opened. A case Mr. Parsons had taken out of a vault in his office and given to me with a knowing smile. – I have been informed about your promotion by Tony. He told me how you fought valiantly. However, I have to point out that the transport you are about to undertake is of greatest importance. Nothing must go wrong. A few years ago one of our top politicians was caught by mistake, by an overzealous custom officer, with diamonds he “forgot” to declare. Ever since that unfortunate happening, I have had the profitable pleasure of helping powerful friends to avoid similar unfortunate accidents. I scratch their back, they scratch mine with favorable oil concessions. As one of Tony’s now trusted employees you are my safety line between this office and the recipient of this attaché case. If you, against all odds, should be stopped, you pretend you know nothing. You are just a delivery boy! Nothing, but a well payed delivery boy.

I was sure that Mr. Parsons had been drinking, for otherwise he would not have hinted at the nature of the valuable content in the attaché-case. Some of the superrich feel the need to show off their superiority to poor people by bragging. I still felt his damp handshake when I drove towards Gardermoen Airport. I knew that the tracking computer at Mr. Tony’s headquarter would show that I was slightly off course, but I hoped it would have not been noticed yet. Things happen, and 99.99 times company alarms were triggered due to traffic jams and other naturally occurring irregularities. However, this small anomaly would also as a matter of routine trigger a reaction. Just in case something unforeseen had happened one of the transporters, or as in my case had been tempted to disappear with the goods. My pulse jumped still another notch when I parked the car at the airport. I could almost imagine Tiny’s huge fists around my throat. Feel how his fingers bored into and crushed my windpipe.

The last minute check-in to Buenos Aires went smoothly. The attaché-case was now filled with a few magazines and a book. The diamonds, which I by now should have handed over to one of Norway’s better known Labor Party politicians, were casually resting in my pockets in the company of sticky Fisherman’s Friends. I had also brought a decent amount of cash and had gambled successfully on getting through airport security without being caught. Diamonds are easy to hide and now I could only hope to get away and erase my tracks completely so that Mr. Tony’s men would never find me.

I found my seat in the middle of the plane and stared at the still rising sun. The Airbus took off and I felt satisfied with the boldness of my actions. The seat beside me was not taken and I rested the attaché-case there. I had made it! The glorious diamonds were mine and mine alone.

Then a polite voice interrupts my train of thoughts. – I guess this is my seat. The voice is so familiar that if instant ulcer had been possible I would have gotten two. Tiny handed me the attaché-case and sat heavily down in the cramped economy seat. – When the alarm at headquarters gave a first indication that you were diverting from your preassigned route, I guessed what you were up to, Dresden, he said rubbing his fingers.

I stared at him and started to sweat. Would I have an unfortunate heart attack there and then or would I meet my death, Tiny’s death, in Bueno Aires? – I did not believe you when you once told me you had unpretentious dreams. I know that your dreams are much like my own dreams. I deactivated Mr. Tony’s alarms, reported your delivery as successful and got into my car. By the way… What do you estimate the value of the diamonds Mr. Parsons entrusted you? He leaned against me. – Mr. Parsons babbled something about fifty millions, I hoarsely answered, and felt the diamonds cut into my thighs. – Good, answered Tiny and stretched so the seat threatened to rip the bolts out of the floor. – That should be enough for my unpretentious dreams as well.

What else could I answer that I hoped the same?

-       - The end

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