Chapter 32 - The Back Office

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Since Sunday was the night that Harry went out drinking, Hubert used his absence as an opportunity to clean the boss’s office.

Hubert was mopping the front hallway when he heard his cell phone ring from his tool belt, where it sat next to a ring of keys that opened every door in the building except the back office behind Harry’s desk. The call was from a resident on the far end of the second floor, complaining that the fluorescent lights in the hallway had just gone dark.

“That can’t be right. I just replaced those lights a month ago. The guy at Kohl’s told me they’re supposed to last five years.”

“All I know is that it’s dark at my end of the hall,” Stella told him. “You need to replace them now. Please, someone might slip and fall.”

“Yeah, of course. I’ll be right up.”

Stella and Johnny waited in the doorway of her room on the second floor. The glow of her television cast light into the hall where Hubert set down a stepladder from the second-floor closet. It was the same ladder Johnny used an hour earlier to unscrew the light from its socket.

Hubert dropped his tool belt to the floor as he moved up the ladder. The keys thudded gently against the carpet. Standing at the top, careful to maintain his balance, he felt around for the light panel and swapped out the fluorescent bulb, replacing it with a fresh one from the closet. The ladder wobbled slightly as he did this.

“This ladder seems a little shaky,” Stella said, holding its base.

As she did this, Johnny reached for the keys on the carpet. He quickly found the ones he needed and snapped them off the ring. He slipped one in his pocket and handed the other two to Stella, who kept them in the palm of her hand.

Harry sat in a corner of the neighborhood sports bar, watching the NFL roundup and downing beers and shots of tequila in quick succession. It took a potent combination of football and alcohol to help Harry forget how much he hated his life.

He’d been working for Lester for decades. But he always dreamed of doing his own thing. He always dreamed of being more than just a lackey, more than just a two-bit hood.

After all, he’d been a performer at one point. He’d been an artist on the Strip in Las Vegas. Just like the King.

Was it too late to do something with his life? Was it too late to be more than a lowlife thug?

He wasn’t sure. It was a tough decision. Maybe another round of beer and tequila would help sharpen his judgment.

***

Back at Shady Palms, Hubert fixed the light and finished mopping Harry’s office. Then he went into the break room to catch the NFL roundup.

Johnny crawled out from a hiding spot in a corner of the first-floor hallway and unlocked the door to Harry’s office. He knew Hubert loved football, and the roundup show would keep him occupied for at least another thirty minutes.

He and his grandmother agreed they would need fifteen minutes to rob the lockbox and get away. The plan they’d rehearsed must now be put into action quickly and decisively. He had to find the key, get into the lockbox, and leave the office by 9:00 p.m. Then he’d meet Stella behind the building. She’d be waiting in the Shady Palms van with the engine running.

Johnny was jittery with excitement as he scanned Harry’s desktop, searching between cluttered piles of sports pages. There was also a wheelchair sitting by the wall near the office entrance. It was the same wheelchair that Stella had refused to sit in when they escorted her to her room that first day.

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