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It was dark now and they kept the house dark except for the study where there were no windows. When Bobby Deo came in from outside he said to Louis, You see him?

It straightened Louis, sitting on the sofa, the shotgun next to him. He come back?

Quiet this time, no lights on.

Louis said, Man, I didnt see a thing. Got it on the full screen, too. But you cant see shit out there at night with that cheap-ass camera, even with the spot. He get out and look around?

Came up to the house, he takes a look in the windows. Looks all around before he leaves. Walks to the back, looks at the swimming pool, looks in the garage

You put your car in there.

Yeah, well, hes seen it now. Gonna want to know what its doing there at night.

You mean if he comes back, Louis said. What you tell him, youre the caretaker. Louis thought about it and began to nod saying, Yeah, the dude looks in the window, dont see any furniture, looks at the scummy swimming pool You understand what Im saying? The dude can see nobodys living here.

Yeah, but my car is there, Bobby said.

Man, I just told you, you the caretaker. You watch the place nobody breaks in. You sleep in the kitchen and must notve heard him outside. Im saying if he comes back. See, then you ask him for some identification. You want to know who the fuck he thinks he is coming around here at night, you trying to sleep.

Bobby was nodding like he agreed, but then said, I dont know about this guy. Is he looking for Harry?

See, I wondered the same thing, Louis said, on account of Chip owing Harry and here Harry is right upstairs. So we think, Oh, he must be looking for Harry. You understand what Im saying? But all the dude say he wants is to talk to Mr. Ganz. Am I right? The dude, it might be wants to sell the man something, like he can give him a deal on aluminum screens, some shit for the house.

So he comes at night, Bobby said, to measure the windows.

What Im saying, Louis said, we dont know what the dude wants outside of he wants to talk to Mr. Ganz. But now he sees Mr. Ganz aint here. Nobody is.

Bobby was nodding again, only this time he said, Why do you call him Mister?

Does it bother you?

I dont know why you do it. You dont work for him.

We go back, Louis said. He use to come over to the casino in Freeport when I was back there awhile dealing blackjack. One night he cashes in big, gives me a five-hundred-dollar tip and hires me to bodyguard him now and then. I been living here, learning how to be African-American, going back and forth when I felt like it; but now I come to stay. And now Im being me, you dig? See, mostly he was going down to Miami then, playing high-stakes poker with the big boys and some of them had bodyguards, so he wanted one, too. Wasnt bad at cards. He start losing, his mama would pick up his IOUs, keep her sonny from getting his legs busted. See, then I went away and didnt hear from him till I come out and he start to call me, ask how Im doing. I come here to see him? Everythings different now, his mamas gone, hes selling off the furniture, and he lay his idea on me, how we gonna be millionaires.

Without him doing any the work, Bobby said.

I told you he dont know shit. Tried falsifying bank loan applications one time and drew probation. Otherwise the mans cherry.

But we say okay, whatever he tells us.

Going with his idea, yeah.

He says let Harry sit there two three weeks, nobody talk to him. We say okay and we sit here watching the TV.

What you saying, Louis said, you dont think we should wait.

I dont see what good it is. Kidnap a guy and give him time to wonder whats happening to him. For what?

We didnt kidnap him, Louis said, we took him hostage.

You like to think of it that way? Its the same thing, Bobby said, coming over to the sofa, standing so close Louis had to bend his head back. You get caught, you go to prison, man. Hes four days up in the room, thats enough. We should talk to Harry now, tonight, tell him what he has to do.

Louis said, Get to it, huh? wanting to think about it, but knowing he didnt have time. It was him and Bobby for the time being and hed have to go along. So he said, I dont see the good of waiting either, just cause the man say to.

Bobby said, Lets go do it.

And that was that.

What theyd do, go upstairs and Louis would check on Harry, see if he had to go potty, while Bobby went to Chips bedroom to get him, the man last seen staring out his window burning herb.

As soon as Louis opened the door Harrys voice in the dark said, Is someone there? Same as he always did.

Goddamn it, say something!

Yelling it. Bobby was right, this man was ready to be talked to. Louis went in past him to the bathroom and turned on the light. The window in here and the two in the bedroom were covered over with sheets of plywood nailed to the window frames. Louis looked at Harry in the light from the bathroom, sitting on his cot, the towel and silver tape wrapped around his head, the man not moving a muscle, listening hard for sounds.

The same way the hostages in Beirut mustve sat listening, not knowing shit where they were at, why they were being held, nothing.

Chip had read all about the hostages, seen them on TV when they were released, read a book one of them wrote and came up with the idea he told to Louis. Pick up any one of these rich guys he had on his list and hide him out for a while.

Louis had said at that time, You talking about kidnapping? The same thing Bobby said when he was told about it. Like the man was crazy.

The way Chip saw the difference: Kidnapping, you hold a person for ransom. What Im talking about, we dont call anyone, like the guys wife, and say pay up or youll never see your husband again. We wait, and after a while we ask the guy what his lifes worth to him.

Louis, that time, still didnt see the difference. He said, But everybody knows the mans been kidnapped.

And Chip said, No, the guys disappeared. No one knows if something happened to him or he took off or what. All the time theyre looking for him weve got him hidden away. Okay, once the guys no longer in the news, nobodys talking about what happened to him, we pick up another guy from the list and do the same thing, chain him up blindfolded like the real hostages, they were kept like that for months, some of them even years.

Louis knew it was some Muslim brothers over there did the job. Being Abu Aziz for a moment instead of Louis Lewis, he said, I believe was the Shiites. You dont mess with those people. He asked Ganz where he was going to hide his hostages and the man said he hadnt worked that part out yet. This was before deciding his house was as good a place as any; the house itself was hidden away and hardly anyone he knew ever came by.

This kind of setup, Chip said, only dealing with the hostages, you dont have to warn anyone not to call the cops. Once the guys missing theyll look for him; but remember, were not asking for ransom money, so theres nothing to tie us to the hostage.

So how do we score?

First, Chip said, we take time to prepare the guy, get him in the right frame of mind. For weeks he sits in a room and never hears a human voice. He knows somebodys bringing him food, taking him to the can, but nobody in all that time says one fucking word to him. See, then when I do speak to the guy he cant believe it. Jesus, someones actually talking to him. But all I say that first time, I ask him, Whats it worth to you to get out of here?

Louis liked that part. Yeah?

Couple of days go by, I approach him again. Have you decided? You bet he has. How much do we want? Name it. Then its like negotiating, coming up with a figure we both agree on, something we know the guy can manage. We have to, you know, be realistic.

He pays, we let him go?

I guess. The guys never seen us. Take him out in the Glades and leave him.

What if he dont want to pay?

He doesnt have a choice, Chip said. First we agree on the amount. Then he has five days I tell him, You have five days to come up with a way of paying us that we like. I tell him, And it better be the best idea you ever had in your fucking life, I mean foolproof, because if we dont like it, if were not absolutely sure itll work, youre dead. So its strictly up to him. In other words we dont have to work anything out, the guy does it. And hes the kind of guy who knows how to move money around, a guy with hidden resources, like that savings and loan guy. Goes bankrupt, cant pay his depositors, but hes sitting on an estimated thirty mil. Right now hes out on bond. Another guy on the list, everybody knows he launders drug money, gets it cleaned and pressed, puts it in a land development deal and the feds havent been able to touch him. Therere all kinds of guys like that around, I mean right in South Florida.

The hostage, Louis said, cant think of a good idea, he gets shot in the head, huh?

If thats how you want to handle it. Therere other ways might even be worse.

Like what?

You didnt hear about the guy, Chip said, wakes up in the middle of the night, his wifes got his dick in her hand?

Whats wrong with that?

Shes standing across the room with it. Cut his dick off with a butcher knife while hes sleeping.

Louis made a face. Man, thats the worst thing I ever heard of.

Chip said, See?

It was in the news when they first started talking about taking hostages. Chip said he was kidding about threatening the guy that way. He said no, if the guy refused to cooperate, or came up with an idea of paying them they didnt like, Louis could take care of the guy any way he wanted.

Letting him do the heavy work.

Louis unlocked Harrys chain and brought him into the bathroom, Harry turning his head to say, I only have to take a leak. So Louis put him in position. When he was going, looking down at the toilet blindfolded, Harry said, Speak to me, will you? Tell me what time it is. Christ, what day it is. You dont want to do that, fine, but say something.

Louis felt like whispering in the mans ear and see him jump, but couldnt think of anything good. He took Harry back to his cot and locked his chain again to the ring bolt in the floor, Bobby and Chip standing in the hall now looking in. Bobby motioned and Louis came out. As soon as he closed the door Chip started in.

This guy, this fucking bill collector, tells me he wants to change the plan I spent more than a year working out. He gets a bug up his ass cause hes tired of sitting around.

We already decide, Bobby said.

Louis took Chip by the arm saying, We gonna talk, lets step over here, and brought the man away from the door. Saying to him now, We wouldnt be here it wasnt for you. Louis keeping his voice quiet, soothing. We not changing nothing, we just want to get it moving.

Chip was turning his head from Louis to Bobby. Go along with your prison buddy, is that it? The cons taking over?

Hey, come on, Louis said, its cool.

Hes stoned, Bobby said.

Yeah, feeling good, huh? Louis said, getting close, in the mans face now. You like that ganja. Louiss gaze moved to Bobby. Gets some of his herb at his mamas nursing home, from one of them Rasta fellas work there. Now he was looking at Chip again, the man staring back at him with big eyes. Listen to me now. We all going along with it. Me and Bobby Deo and my man Mr. Ganz. Understand? Harry, I can tell, is strung out ready for us, so we gonna do it, get to the money part.

Chip shrugged and had to move his feet to keep his balance. He said, This is the way you want it? Being cool now since he didnt have a choice. Fine. Ill go in and put the bug in his ear. Harry, whats it worth to you to get out of here?

Go home to his loved ones, Louis said, placing his hands on Chips shoulders. Except one thing worries me. You made bets with Harry on the phone, didnt you? Many times, called him about every week.

Id speak to one of his sheet writers.

Yeah, but you talk to him, too.

Once in a while.

See, you go in and talk to him now, he could recognize your voice. Man like Harry, being careful, he knows voices. Same as with Bobby. Bobbys spoken to him, the reason he come here. So he could know it was Bobby to speak to him.

Youre gonna do what you want, Chip said.

Listen to me. What Im saying is Im the one should talk to the man, Louis said. One, he dont know me; but two, I know Freeport, Grand Bahama. Man, Im from where his moneys at. Soon as he told Dawn I began to think, Do I know somebody works at his bank? I told you that. You my man, Mr. Ganz. What I want you to tell me is go in there and say your words, set the man up just like you was saying it.

Harry raised his head, the way he always did.

Is somebody there?

Louis closed the door before turning the light on. He walked over to the cot and sat down. Harry, feeling it, turned his blindfolded head toward him.

Will you say something? Please?

Ill make you a deal, Louis said.

Jesus, anything.

We do some business. Just me and you. We dont tell nobody else, not a soul. You understand what Im saying? Just me and you.

thirteen | Riding the Rap | fifteen