Read Ariel S. Winter's exclusive Twitter mystery story Pawn in its entirety here. Make sure you pay close attention as there is a chance to win a prize by solving the mystery of who made the wooden carving. If you know the answer, tweet it to @hardcasecrime.
‘PAWN’: Jorge saw it with his own eyes.
The guy flew fifteen feet.
Then he got up, unhurt, and ran.
Max had just hit 150 mph, a few inches in the lead, when the guy jumped out of the alley and into the street.
He slammed on his breaks and jerked the wheel, but the car skidded and sideswiped the guy.
People watching the race jumped in their cars and peeled out, not waiting for the police to show up.
But the guy was up. He took a moment to look around him, frantic, then glanced back at the alley.
He bolted across the street, into the opposite alley.
Only seconds later, two other men ran out, full tilt, and darted after him down the same alley.
Max got the car in gear—or pulled himself together; he’d just hit a man—and took off too.
On the street, where Max had skidded to a stop, was a package. It had been hidden under his car.
Jorge ran to it. It was something rolled in many layers of bubble wrap, about the size and shape of a football.
He scooped it up, tucked it under his arm—it was surprisingly light—and set a fast walking pace away from the scene.
“Wait!” Sulgrave called.
He stopped, panting, hands clutching his sides. His shins hurt, and the bottoms of his feet. He looked down the alley.
“Hey, Tommy, stop!”
Tommy, thirty yards away, turned “What! We’re going to lose him.”
Their quarry disappeared around a corner, three, maybe four blocks away.
Sulgrave tried to catch his breath. What the hell had they been thinking taking a fence on a job?
“He dropped it.”
Sulgrave began to scan the ground. “He didn’t have it anymore. He must’ve dropped it.”
The alley was dark, lit by weak streetlamps spaced forty feet apart.
Tommy came back. “You’re sure?”
“Positive. He wasn’t carrying it anymore.”
Tommy started to look. “You can’t see shit back here.” He pulled out his cell phone and turned on the flashlight app.
They each took a side of the alley, checking along the fences, behind and in garbage cans. “Hey, turn that off. Someone’ll call the cops.”
Tommy left the light on. “Fucking Meyer. We better find this thing, and there better be a fucking diamond in it.”
Meyer had come to them that afternoon, excited. Claimed he’d found a long lost relic in a pawn shop on one of his regular visits.
He’d told them about it before. It was his sort of his El Dorado. Legend was that there was a giant diamond hidden inside.
The pawn shop wouldn’t sell. Meyer needed them to break in and get it before the owner reclaimed it. They’d get a cut when he fenced it.
“Did you see when he got hit by that car? I thought we had him, but he just fucking ran away.”
“I knew two guys that got hit by cars when I was a kid,” Sulgrave said. “Brothers. They both walked away fine.”
“Shit,” Sulgrave said. His chest still burned from their run. “That must be when he dropped it.” He began jogging back towards the street.
Tommy caught up and passed him.
Sulgrave started walking again, limping now—God, he was old.
“Fuck!” Tommy was yelling when Sulgrave got out to the street. “Fuck, fuck, fuck.”
“Tommy. Keep it down.”
“I don’t see it, Sully.” Tommy was bending and looking beneath the parked cars. “I don’t fucking see it.”
Sulgrave was in too much pain to care just then. Goddamn running. Through the alleys. God.
“Sully,” Tommy approached the older man. “Are you sure he dropped it? Because if we just let—”
“He dropped it,” Sulgrave said.
Tommy looked into Sulgrave’s eyes. “Fuck. You’re right. You’re fucking right. He wasn’t carrying it.”
“Where’d all those people go?”
“It was a street race,” Tommy said. “They’re all long gone. I bet one of them has it.”
“Well, we better double-check the alley,” Sulgrave said.
“It’s not in the alley.”
“We better double-check. And if someone else has it, we better find them.”
Sulgrave turned back to the alley.
Tommy followed. “They’re not going to know what it is anyway.”
Jorge braced his left hand against the door to his efficiency, and turned the knob with painstaking care. He didn’t want to wake Julia.
The bubble-wrapped package was wedged under his arm.
The latch released, and Jorge began to ease the door open.
“You can cut that shit out, I’m awake.”
Jorge’s shoulders slumped, and he stepped into the room.
“You were at the fucking races again, weren’t you?” Julia said.
“Can I turn on a light,” Jorge said and pulled the string to the wall-mounted fluorescent bulb in the kitchenette before Julia could answer.
He set the package down on the two-burner stovetop, and started to peel at the tape holding the bubble wrap closed.
“You said you weren’t going to the races anymore.”
The tape split, forming long strings that were a pain to deal with. Jorge pulled open the drawer and got out a knife.
“Jorge! What the fuck?”
He sliced the tape, and began to unroll the bubble wrap. There was a lot of it.
“Hey, stupid, I’ve got to be up in...” The bed groaned as she shifted to see the clock. “Fucking three hours. What’s your goddamn excuse?”
The thing tumbled out of the wrapping, clanging on the range.
“Jorge! Are you ignoring me?”
Jorge picked it up and turned it over. It was wood, a carving of a face. Like some kind of Indiana Jones bullshit.
“Jorge.” Julia threw back the covers, and got out of bed. “The last fucking thing we need is for you to get picked up at one of these—”
She came up behind him. “What is that?”
She reached for it, and he let her take it. She turned it over in her hands.
“Some dumb fuck got hit by a car at the race. He dropped that.”
She looked at him sharply, a fierce brow. “Someone got hit—”
The nurse in her searched his face. She must have decided he was telling the truth. She looked at the carving. “Its ear is broken.”
He took it from her. One of the ears was gone. “You know what this shit is? It’s like those statues on that island. The big faces.”
“It’s something,” she said, taking it again, and placing it on the stove. She slid her arms around him. “Come to bed. I worry about you.”
He kissed the top of her head. “I know.”
“Why the fuck are we here?”
“Because I don’t trust you, and you were pretty fucking far from Meyer when you said he wasn’t carrying it anymore.”
“You agreed with me.”
“Well, I don’t fucking trust me either.”
Sulgrave and Tommy were in the hall outside of Geoff Meyer’s apartment. “You ready to do this thing?” Tommy said.
Tommy rolled his eyes and banged.
There was a sound behind the door. Meyer must have looked through the peephole, because he yelled without opening up, “I don’t have it.”
Tommy shouted, “Why do I think you’d say that even if you did fucking have it? Now open up.”
“You think I’m stupid?” Meyer yelled.
Sulgrave, without raising his voice, said, “Your landlord is going to be pretty pissed if we have to break his doorframe.”
Tommy and Sulgrave looked at each other.
The door swung open, Meyer’s hand still on the knob. “Listen, guys, I don’t know where it is. I got hit by a car last night—”
He had a large bump on his forehead just below the hairline with a couple of spots of dried blood.
“We saw that,” Tommy said, stepping into the apartment, forcing Meyer back. “How’d you walk away from that?”
Meyer kept backing away. “I don’t know. Listen, I dropped it. I don’t know where it is. I fucking promise you.”
“What do you think, Sully,” Tommy said, playing up his mock concern.
“I think he’s telling the truth.”
“See,” Tommy said. “I’m not so sure. I need you to make me sure, Geoff. How are you going to make me sure?”
“Search the place. Whatever you want.”
Sulgrave rolled his eyes. “I’m not searching this shithole.”
“I have a better idea,” Tommy said, as though he’d just had the greatest idea in his life.
“Let’s see how you managed to get hit by a car and walk away.
Geoff held out his hands. He was backed against the living room wall, with nowhere to go. “Now, guys…”
Tommy grabbed Geoff’s shoulder, so Sulgrave grabbed the other. They started leading Meyer from the room.
“What were you thinking,” Sulgrave said to Meyer. “Did you think the cops were going to pick us up?”
They left the door open as they pushed Meyer down the hall to the stairs.
“You thought, we’d spend the night in jail,” Tommy said, “and you’d sell the diamond and be gone when we got out?”
“No,” Meyer said. “The alarm went off and I panicked. Seriously, I wasn’t running out on you.”
“Sure, you panicked,” Tommy said. “After you took all that time with your goddamn bubble wrap.”
They burst outside.
Meyer wasn’t putting up much of a struggle.
“What are we doing, Tommy?” Sulgrave said.
“Over here,” said Tommy, leading them to a telephone pole.
He pushed Meyer so his back was to the phone pole, and pulled his arms back, so that one man could hold him from behind.
“Take him” Tommy said.
Tommy went to their car, a black Land Cruiser.
“No,” Geoff said. He started to struggle then. “No, no, no, no. Sully, please.”
Tommy started the Land Cruiser, backed it out of the spot and repositioned himself so that the front of the car was facing Meyer.
“Sully, I’m telling you. I don’t have it. I dropped it. I don’t know where it is.”
Tommy revved the motor.
“Sully, don’t let him. Don’t let him.” Meyer wasn’t struggling anymore.
Tommy stuck his head out of the window. “Well?”
“He doesn’t have it. He dropped it.”
“Do you believe him?”
“Fuck yeah, I do.” Sulgrave let Meyer go. He stumbled, not prepared for getting released.
Tommy gunned the engine then, and slammed the car into the telephone pole, just as Meyer spun away.
He hit the ground.
“Ahhh, fuck!” Meyer yelled. “Fuck, Tommy, you stupid cunt fuck.”
Tommy had clipped Meyer’s knee.
Tommy opened the driver’s-side door, and stood on the running board to look. He laughed. “Damn. That was worth the damage to my bumper.”
Sulgrave bent down and fished Meyer’s phone out of his pocket. He dialed 911, put it on speaker and dropped the phone next to Meyer.
Meyer was too busy yelling “fuck” to notice.
Sulgrave got into the Land Cruiser. Tommy backed up and they drove away.
Jorge sat on the curb outside the Mr. Tire.
His lunch cooler was open between his feet. PB&J, the jelly soaked through the white bread. A bag of Utz chips. A Slim Jim. A Corona.
The whine and whir and clang of the garage came from behind him. A dirty white ’05 or ’06 Aveo pulled into the parking lot.
Eduardo came down the sidewalk with a Dunkin’ Donuts bag, and kicked Jorge’s boot. “Move over.”
Jorge stayed put.
Eduardo hiked up his pants and sat on the curb next to him. “You going to the race tomorrow night?”
He unwrapped a bacon, egg, and cheese with his oil-blackened hands. He took a bite.
“Hey,” Eduardo said with his mouth full. “You going to the fuckin’ race?”
Jorge took a swig of Corona. “I don’t know.”
“You let me know if you need a ride.”
“How ’bout that race last night,” Eduardo said, his mouth full again.
Sam from the parts place pulled in. Jorge could switch out that leaking radiator in the ’07 Corolla now after lunch.
“That white boy fucking flew through the air.”
“Jorge! Eddie-boy!” Sam called as he went into the office.
“Yo!” Jorge yelled back, raising a hand.
“Max was f**kin’ scared out of his mind,” Eduardo said.
Jorge stripped open his Slim Jim and took a bite. The Freakin’ Hot Jalapeño. His mouth filled with that good burn. “How do you know?”
“’Cause I was f**kin’ with him after.”
“Hmm,” Jorge said, eating his Slim Jim.
“Once he got back to his place,” Eduardo said, “Max was just angry. What kind of idiot jumps in front of a f**kin’ race?”
Jorge thought about the package he’d picked up, and the two guys who were chasing the guy who dropped it.
“He wanted a rematch and fast,” Eduardo said.
Jorge finished his Slim Jim and dropped the empty wrapper into his cooler.
“Man, one of these days we need to get our own f**kin’ car,” Eduardo said, “I’m sick of this spectator sh*t.”
Jorge upended his Corona, wiped his mouth with a paper napkin and stood up.
“Yo, don’t leave me already,” Eduardo said.
Sam came out of the office, and began to unload boxes onto a hand truck.
“Got work,” Jorge said, and went over to help Sam.
“Stupido,” Eduardo called after him.
“Jorge, my man,” Sam said as Jorge approached, and threw him a box.
Tommy pulled the Land Cruiser off the side of the road by the Mt. Washington Body Shop. He had to wait for a break in traffic to get out.
He and Sulgrave went into the small dirty office that smelled like gasoline. A wiry man with a bristle-brush mustache was on the phone.
“What time you think he’ll get here?” the man on the phone said. He saw Tommy and nodded, holding a finger up to say, wait.
“Great, Bob. Thanks so much.” The mechanic hung up and came around the desk, hand extended. “Tommy f**king Callahan, how the hell are you?”
He and Tommy clasped hands, pulled themselves toward each other and slapped the other’s back.
When they separated, Tommy said, “You still into the races, Mitch?”
Mitch looked at Sulgrave, who said nothing. He looked back at Tommy. “No, I got too old for that sh*t. I’d rather do customs for shows now.
Sulgrave rolled his eyes. Another of Tommy’s brilliant ideas.
“Any of your boys might know about the races?” Tommy asked. “We want to know when the next one is.”
Mitch looked at Sulgrave again, and licked his lips. It was clear he knew the kind of reasons Tommy might have for asking.
Sulgrave kept his expression blank.
“Mitch,” Tommy said.
Mitch blinked and shook his head. “Right, yeah.” He nodded. “Go through and ask the guys. I don’t know. I stay away from all that sh*t now.”
Tommy held out his hand and the two men embraced again. “You stay out of trouble, you b**tard,” Tommy said.
“You too,” Mitch said. “And come buy me a beer sometime.”
Tommy led Sulgrave out of the office and around to the garages.
The air-powered tire changer whined and chugged.
Tommy went up to the nearest mechanic, a skinny black man with a goatee. “You know anything about street races?” Tommy said.
“Nuh.” The man pointed his chin. “Ask Chip.”
Sulgrave went around the car to the mechanic in the next bay. “We’re looking for a race,” Sulgrave said.
Chip looked up. He was a kid in glasses with a ponytail and a stupid patch of beard. “Who are you?” he said.
Tommy came up behind Sulgrave. “Friends of Mitch.”
Chip looked like he might ask to see I.D.
“Is it f**king yes or no?” Tommy said.
“We’re not cops,” Sulgrave said.
Chip measured them both for another minute. “There’s a race tomorrow night at midnight down by the Falls Road Yards.”
“Is that the only race around?” Tommy said.
“It’s the only one that matters. Max is running for a rematch.”
“So everyone’ll be there?”
“Hey, man,” Chip said holding his hands out to either side. “Do I look like a hostess? I don’t know who the hell’s going to be there.”
“Let’s go,” Sulgrave said.
“Great,” Tommy said. “Thanks.”
Sulgrave was already on his way back to the car.
Tommy caught up, ran around to the driver’s side and got in. “What’d I tell you,” he said once Sulgrave had slammed his door. “No problem.”
“Huh. Yeah,” Sulgrave said. “We’ll see.”
Tommy pulled away.
Another boring race day, watching the clock, fixing cars people just used for transportation, waiting to punch out, all anticipation.
Now it was 11:30. Almost race time.
Jorge went into the bathroom, squeezed some gel into his hand, pushed his hair back, then ran a comb through it.
“Where are you going?” Julia said from the bed. She was watching some singing show on their netbook.
“Out,” Jorge said, putting on a painter’s hat backwards. His phone chimed, a text. Eduardo was here.
Jorge continued to the door.
“Wait.” Julia threw the netbook on the other side of the bed and climbed out. “Wait, I’ll go with you.”
Jorge looked back, eyebrows raised.
Julia was stripping out of her sleeping scrubs. She grabbed a black bra from the floor.
“I thought you had work in the morning.”
She hooked the bra and went to the closet. “So do you.”
Jorge’s phone chimed again. He texted back that Julia was getting ready. Eduardo would like that. He liked Julia.
Julia had on jean short shorts, and was stepping into black heels. She hadn’t dressed like that in a long time. It was good.
“Why you want to come?” Jorge said.
Julia pulled on a red halter top, and took his hand. She was taller than him in the heels. “’Cause I miss you.”
Jorge cocked his head at the same time his phone chimed again.
Julia said, “What? If you’re going to the damn races anyway, I might as well f**king come.”
Jorge shrugged. Julia kissed him. “Is it okay I don’t have any makeup?”
Jorge pulled her to him by the ass, and kissed her so deep that she panted when they separated. She blinked. “Maybe we should stay here.”
Jorge opened the door, and Julia trailed out behind him, laughing and holding his hand.
“So what’s your big plan?” Sulgrave said as they approached the crowd lining Falls Road.
They’d left the Land Cruiser with the other spectators’ cars, behind two trucks that were being used as a roadblock.
The flashy racecars--yellow, green, red--underglow lights--spinners--spoilers--were lined along the Falls Yard chain-link fence.
“Just start asking people,” Tommy said.
“Great plan,” Sulgrave said. There was a deafening roar he felt in his chest, and then the smell of bad beer. The crowd cheered.
“F**k,” Tommy said.
Sulgrave shook his head and sighed. “You go that way, I’ll go this way. Your phone’s on vibrate?”
“Hold it in your hand. Text if you’ve got something.” Sulgrave turned to the closest set of kids. “Excuse me.”
There was the low rumble of two new cars lining up on the starting line. The smell of cigarettes and pot mixed with the smell of burnt fuel.
“Were you at the race two nights ago? Friend of mine got hit by a car, and lost something.”
“No sh*t,” a kid in a jean vest with a popped collar said. “You know that guy? Is he okay?”
“Banged up his knee. But he lost a package, about this big,” Sulgrave held out his hands, “in bubble wrap. You see what happened to it?”
The crowd grew louder. Sulgrave rose up on his toes to see two cars on the starting line with their engines running.
He noticed that some people were wearing neon orange ear plugs. He covered his ears with his hands.
Some girl gave the signal. The roar and the smell again. It lasted only seconds. Money changed hands.
A tall black man walked through the crowd with a cooler over his shoulder, shouting, “Cold beer. Cold beer.”
Sulgrave stopped him, and gave him the spiel. The guy had no clue.
When they got the carving back, this middle of the night bullshit had to stop.
Sulgrave went on. “Excuse me…” “Anyone see…” “Friend lost…”
The races were timed only a few minutes apart. Some of the cars must have run more than once.
Through the crowd, Sulgrave could see some of the cars with their hoods up, work being done between races.
“Excuse me…” “Anyone see…”
He kept checking his phone. Nothing from Tommy. They’d f**king lost it. F**king Meyer. He should have let Tommy hit him with the car.
“I’m looking for…”
Sulgrave looked around. A race had just ended, and people were starting to leave. It was maybe 1:30.
“Hey.” It was an unbelievable-looking girl, pulling a short Hispanic man in a painter’s cap behind her.
“Hey, you looking for your friend’s package?” she said, coming up to Sulgrave. “We’ve got it.”
Cars were moving behind them. People leaving. Sulgrave’s phone buzzed in his hand. Tommy: “Race is over. You find it?”
“Yeah,” Sulgrave said to the woman.
A taller Hispanic man tapped the shorter one. “You guys coming?”
“Can I get it back?” Sulgrave said.
The girl’s boyfriend didn’t look amenable. “There’s a reward, of course.” Sulgrave reached into his pocket. “A hundred bucks.”
“Guys, we got work in the morning,” the taller man said.
“I can take you guys home if you’ve got it there,” Sulgrave said.
“Of course,” the girl said.
Tommy showed up. “These guys have Meyer’s package,” Sulgrave said.
“No sh*t. Great. Where is it?”
The short man had still said nothing. He eyed the $100 bill in Sulgrave’s hand.
Tommy, in a surprising show of intelligence, said, “A hundred now, and a hundred when we get the package.”
The short man took the bill and slipped it in his pocket. He turned to the taller man. “I’ll see you tomorrow.”
“No problem, man.”
They walked as a group towards their cars. The racecars had already pulled away.
On the drive, Julia did all of the talking, the three men silent.
As they approached the apartment, Jorge got out his keys. He felt the hundred in his pocket next to his knife.
Just because the hundred was in his pocket now, didn’t mean it would stay there.
He opened the door and flicked on the light. The taller, younger guy saw the wooden head at once, and tried to pass Jorge.
Julia got ahead of all of them and picked it up. “What is this thing anyway?”
Jorge blocked the young man, who looked like he was ready to fight right there.
Julia held the carving out.
The man Jorge was blocking calmed down.
Jorge said, “You said another hundred dollars.”
The older man who had given him the first hundred reached into his pocket again.
The younger man took the carving from Julia.
“It’s an antique, from the Pacific Islands,” the older man was saying, as he handed the hundred to Jorge.
The younger man holding the antique looked triumphant, clearly itching to leave.
Had he let it go too cheap? Jorge thought. Two hundred bucks was two hundred bucks, and he didn’t know what the f**k to do with the thing.
Jorge said nothing.
“Open up, you dumb f**k, or I’ll shoot open this door.”
“Do you think I’m stupid?”
The two men in the hall said something to each other that Jorge couldn’t hear. Maybe they laughed. They would shoot through the door.
Jorge opened it, leaving the security chain on.
“What do you want?” he said through the crack.
“What the f**k, diamond,” Jorge said.
“Jorge,” Julia said behind him, but he held out his hand to silence her.
“The f**king diamond,” the younger man yelled.
The older man brought up a chisel and a hammer.
Jorge pulled out his knife and released the blade. “We don’t have any diamond. We don’t know about any f**king diamond.”
The older man put the chisel to the security chain and hammered.
“We gave you the thing,” Jorge shouted.
Julia was dialing 911 behind him. The neighbors probably were too.
The man hammered, the security chain popped, and the men pushed open the door.
Jorge slashed, catching the younger man.
“F**k!” he yelled, and brought up a gun, cocking it.
Jorge went to stab him again, but the older man grabbed his hand, and slammed him against the wall.
Julia screamed, trying to get further away while still on the bed.
“Don’t shoot,” the man holding Jorge said. Then he forced the knife from Jorge’s hand, and held it to his throat.
“We don’t have anything,” Julia was saying through tears. “We don’t know anything. We don’t know anything.”
The man holding Jorge put his forearm to Jorge’s throat and leaned his weight into it.
The other man had been tearing through the efficiency, the kitchenette, the closet. He wasn’t really looking, just throwing things.
Jorge’s vision was blurry. His head hurt.
“Hey, f**khead,” the man holding him said. “Come get me my money.”
The young man came over and felt for Jorge’s pockets. He pulled out the two hundred dollar bills.
“Got it,” he said.
The older man held up his hammer, but he was still leaning on Jorge’s throat, so Jorge saw and heard nothing.
Julia screamed somewhere again.
Then the pressure was gone, and Jorge was holding his thighs, coughing, trying to throw up. The men were already gone.
Julia rushed to him, and pulled him to the bed. “Jorge... Jorge…”
In the Land Cruiser, Sulgrave threw the tools into the back, and then put on his seatbelt. “Take me the f**k home. Goddamn waste of time.”
Tommy put his gun away and said nothing.
“And next time, don’t bring a fucking gun.”
Tommy pulled away.
“F**k,” Sully yelled, then fell silent. “Goddamn,” he muttered.
Tommy drove. They were five blocks away before they heard sirens.
“We’ll have to find the next f**king copy,” Tommy said, trying to lighten the mood.
Sulgrave said nothing. When Tommy dropped him off at his apartment, he got out without a word.
Tommy picked up the pieces of the broken carving. He closed his eyes, and exhaled. “F**k,” he said, “another f**king fake.”