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Black Mask

The Hideout
by Bernard Onken

There’s no sound but the chuk chuk chuk as he scuttles over loose rocks on the track bed. Running in the dead dark, a mizzle of freezing rain on his face. Your optimal for cover, this kind of night. Pinky wouldn’t be out here sniffing his trail anyway, not yet. But even if. Chuk chuk chuk. Then he’s off the tracks and following the chain-link fence along the self-storage’s back wall. Still no lights. He did his homework. Doing your homework pays off, Pasquale. You can put that in the paper.

At the corner the fence ends. Another block and you’ve got new condos up the wazz. Fifty floors on a plaza that’s lit so hard there aren’t even shadows. He turns the corner onto a street of wet cobbles in back of the F.K. Krook warehouse. The loading bay, lined with industrial shutters, runs the full block. One yellowy exterior light shines over the cracked loading slab. Looks like a layer of gold foil. Everything else is black and gray like an old movie.

He takes six concrete steps up to the Stairwell A entrance. The metal door’s tagged EEEK!, with a stenciled silhouette raising a chainsaw. Next to it are four buzzers. He’s already been inside a few times, doing homework. The electric box got rewired. How ’bout that. He holds the Elevator Room button down and pulls the door open.

In the stairwell he clicks on a penlight. There’s an access door with DANGER HARD HAT AREA posted. He opens it onto the warehouse’s ground level. The floor’s an expanse of bare cement set with thick square columns. His light sifts up to a thirty-foot ceiling, cables hanging down. He sweeps the beam over a banged-up green Dumpster that’s hand-painted PHASE 1 DEMOLITION. Next to it is a signboard for KROOK LOFTS VIRTUAL TOUR. He crosses the cold, dark space, passing the loading-bay shutters. Now he’s at another door, this one strapped with yellow caution tape. He gives the door a push, ducks the tape, and goes in.

It’s a second stairway, this one close and musty. He takes two flights up and enters a blacked-out corridor. He starts walking, the penlight’s spot sliding over cracked linoleum. He comes to a striped construction barrier, edges past. A little farther on and he’s at a door that he opens with a key. Flicks the wall switch and an overhead bulb puts stark light on a rumpled sleeping bag. The floor’s scattered with food wrappers. He shuts the door and keeps going down the hall. It’s all looking optimal. He rounds a corner and unlocks another door. This time he goes in and shuts it.

The penlight fixes on a foam mattress, then shifts to the peanut-butter jars, crackers, cartons of beef broth, and liters of water pushed against one wall. If Pinky ever tracks him, he’ll find the decoy room first. See the sleeping bag. He’ll ask himself what gives, then decide it’s been abandoned. He’ll get fed up and leave. Pinky. Face like a concrete block, voice like a snake hiss. He once went with Pinky to lean on a deadbeat. Some West Side chip who wasn’t paying. Pinky just lost it, like you couldn’t believe. “Bitches be bitches,” Pinky said. He’s always saying that.

But Pinky hasn’t got any patience. Pinky hasn’t got any logic.

Besides, no one could know about this hideout. Pinky and Lawyer Nick couldn’t come up with the slightest clue. Even after they got to Shay.

Heads-up already. If he tells himself there’s no way to be found, that’s a false sense of security. Highly not recommended, Pasquale. And right away another thought hits him. That construction barrier. What if the thing seems too blinkin’ obvious? What if it’s a red flag, even?

Calm yourself. Dollars to doughnuts they’d never come sniffing up here. And say they do, they’ll never get to the hideout. The barrier would be okay, as is.

He clicks the penlight off and folds himself onto the mattress. Staring up into stone black. Shay said: Each does what they are best at doing. After that, it’s all trust. Right. Trust and two bucks’ll get y’s on a train to Hoboken. He puts his hands over the money pouch that’s cinched at his waist. Himself, he’s best at hiding out, and at patience. Your gift of gab, not as much. The heavy jobs? He’s done them, but he wants out.

The pouch is packed so full, the outside of it’s almost smooth. He moves his palms over and around it, lying there still.

He sits up. Slides off the mattress and crawls across the floor to the hidey-hole he’s sawed in the baseboard. Finds it by feel and opens it up. Inside’s his iron. It’s right there, he’s got it now.

Shay works for Lawyer Nick. She’d answer calls, watch the desk. You might doubt she was any way efficient, but that’s you. The afternoon previous he’d gone around to Lawyer’s office and Shay had let him into the basement. Then she’d left, doing what she’s best at. He hid down there, parked on a box of old files. Sitting still and silent, right? Till one a.m., then he went back up. The cash was in the desk, the exact spot where Shay’d said to look. Lawyer stuck it there before he locked up that night. To beat those locks from outside you’d need Semtex. Lucky for him he wasn’t outside, eh Pasquale?

This was Lantana money. Pinky was Vic Lantana’s guy. Pinky would be coming around to the office to retrieve the drop, but not till after three. First he had to close up the Grape Vine. Lawyer Nick would follow the logic. The money goes missing, Pinky had access. Connect the dots.

Shay was supposed to wait at her place up by the Home Depot. The idea was for him to head over there from Lawyer’s. They’d split the pile, then flake off. She’d be expecting him, but Pinky would show. He’d ask Shay what happened. Pinky would.

Just thinking it through.

So dark in here it didn’t matter if your eyes were open or shut. You see orange waves when they’re shut, that’s all. He’d stay five days. Lawyer’s people, Lantana’s people, they’ll get everything Shay knows before they . . . But it’ll be like he left that office and got teleported. Out there, there’s no trace of him. He’s teleported, to the farthest star. You can put that in the science section.

He lets out a sly giggle in the blackness.

But hold it. The decoy room, would it fool anyone? He could’ve set up three rooms. The decoy, then this room for a convincer, and then a third one for the actual hideout. Three’s the number. Three exactly. But thinking of this now—it’s too late. He couldn’t even try out a third room. He couldn’t go lie somewhere else, unprotected.

Just thinking. Following the logic.

What if his decoy room’s a red flag, a giveaway, a telltale? See how it defeats its own purpose?

Calm yourself. Think about the exits instead. Of course, every exit’s an entrance too. Any way he could’ve been spotted coming inside? But say he was, then wasn’t that exactly why he set up the decoy? A just-in-case insurance thing?

It’s like everything went optimal and he still can’t smooth out the edges. The angles. All the angles got covered, and still . . . Of course, any intrusion on him will be a surprise. A surprise attack.

Now hold on. If he has to take off fast, the exits, they’re going to figure for life or . . . So field-test the whole setup now, while there’s time? It would mean leaving the hideout. It would mean exposure.

It’s silent, dead still, dead dark. He can wait and wait and wait. But is that good? Pinky, the Lantana guys, they could even be in the building by now. Sniffers. He hates a sniffer. Hates them all.


Read the exciting conclusion in this month’s issue on sale now!

Copyright © 2022. The Hideout by Bernard Onken

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