Philadelphia Reflections

The musings of a physician who has served the community for over six decades

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USA: Chapter Seven

Raymond Barnes stormed back and forth in the small motel room, alternately pulling the dirty drapes aside to scan the parking lot and then sipping cold coffee and munching on donuts he had bought at the shop down the highway. He was furious. It was seven in the morning and local news was on TV. As angry as he was, he decided to watch the sports news for the scores of last night's games, so he grabbed the remote and flopped down on the edge of the bed, spilling the rest of his coffee on the blanket. "Screw it," he said aloud, "I'm not waiting around any longer for Muzzadin and his half-wit goon to show up, I'm gettin' out of this fleabag."

What fueled his anger was the thought that maybe Muzzadin had stiffed him, had taken off without him after promising him three grand for his help. Barnes was just about broke and had asked for a grand up front, but Muzzadin refused. Was this why? On the other hand, based on his no-show last night at McQuaid's maybe Muzzadin didn't get what he was after. If that was the case, they probably hadn't taken off yet. Even though Barnes had known Muzzadin and Salemi for only a couple of weeks, he knew their routine and the bar and diner where they hung out. They also had the motel unit next to his. So, if they were still in the area he'd find them, and if Muzzadin tried reneging on their deal he'd regret it. That much he knew for sure.

Barnes had his own car and was supposed to meet Muzzadin at eleven last night on the parking lot at Hammel & McQuaid. Barnes had been there previously to disable the alarm system when the three of them broke into the building, but never found what they were looking for. Muzzadin was supposed to bring this guy McQuaid back to the building last night to get whatever the hell it is he's after - one way or another. If it turned out that what he wanted was locked in a safe - and McQuaid refused to cooperate - it would be Barnes job to open it, something he was really good at. But nobody showed, and he waited until three this morning before giving up and returning to his motel, a little more than four hours ago.

Just as he was about to turn off the TV a news bulletin flashed on the screen, two guys being put into a police cruiser - one with his arm in a sling. He recognized both Muzzadin and Salemi. The announcer said they had been arrested at a local hospital and were being held on stolen car, drug and weapons charges. "Shit," thought Barnes, "I told that asshole to ditch the car and pick-up another. At least switch the plates. He wouldn't listen. Now maybe I'm really out my money. I gotta figure some way to work this out, or cut my losses and take off."

Barnes had no idea where Muzzadin stashed his money. He had seen him flash a money clip more than once, fat with twenties and fifties. But that probably wouldn't cover what he was owed, and he wasn't going to settle for a dime less than three grand. Of course he'd take it all if he found more.

It was probably useless, but he decided the best place to start looking was in Muzzadin's motel room next door. Even though Muzzadin kept it locked, the connecting door between their motel rooms offered little resistance, and in less than five minutes Barnes had tossed the room and found nothing, not even a toothbrush. This confirmed his suspicion that they were going to take off as soon as Muzzadin got what he wanted.

Barnes went back to his room and gathered up his few belongings while trying to decide what to do. He didn't know too much about Muzzadin's and Salemi's background, but he knew they had been in this country illegally for a long time. Barnes was convinced that besides the dough he carried with him Muzzadin had to have big money squirreled away somewhere, he wasn't dumb enough to keep it all with him - maybe a safe deposit box or a locker. He also knew Muzzadin would never voluntarily tell him where the money was and, if the TV report was correct, he wouldn't be getting out of jail any time soon. So the only way he'd get his hands on the money was to spring Muzzadin from jail, and then squeeze him, squeeze him hard. It would take some doing, but he thought he knew a way to make it work.

Raymond Barnes was thirty-one years old, was small and wiry, and wore metal framed glasses. His neat, bookish appearance misled most people, but he had been in scrapes with the law more times than he could remember since being picked up for shoplifting at age ten. Born and raised in the area, he learned how to survive and how to play the justice system. At eighteen he was arrested on car theft charges - he and a buddy were funneling cars to a local chop shop - and spent three months in the county jail, the longest three months of his life. A shyster lawyer took every cent he had but did manage to get him out of doing any hard time at Riverview. The prospect of more jail time convinced Barnes to at least try turning his life around. He decided the first thing he needed was a change of scenery, so he enlisted in the army.

During his early years in the service Barnes kept out of trouble. He graduated from electronics school and later was selected for training with an elite demolition unit, specializing in long-range wireless detonation of plastic explosives, sometimes days or even weeks after the charges were hidden. Barnes was their best student. By the time he re-enlisted he was considered an expert and had been involved in half a dozen covert operations. Then his life turned around again; his unit was sent to Germany. During his second year there he got bit by the quick-money bug and everything went to hell. Even though he had never gotten involved with drugs, personally or otherwise, an army buddy convinced him there was easy money to be made and set him up with a supply line, small but profitable. He found he could pull in over a thousand a week by pushing the junk just on the base. He tried to keep everything low-key and small scale, but eventually he sold to the wrong guy and got nailed. Barnes tried working his old justice system magic, but the best he could do was a court martial, six months in the stockade and a dishonorable discharge.

Since returning to the States more than four years ago Barnes had moved around a lot. At least he now had some special skills to peddle, and he did, whether penetrating somebody's security system or packaging explosive "take-out menus", as he jokingly called his specialty. What he did wasn't legal, but it was always profitable. Then, about a year ago he messed up a job in New York, messed up bad. Killed the wrong guy and created a lot of heat for the wrong people. Word spread fast among the wise guys and now nobody wanted to use him, regardless of price. So here he was, almost flat broke, screwing around for a lousy three grand, even though common sense told him to take off.

Getting Muzzadin out of jail would be tough, and squeezing him later for the money might be even tougher. Barnes plan was risky, but because he knew they normally didn't keep prisoners in local jails for more than a few hours, and also knew the county system for transferring prisoners, he was sure he could pull it off. First, he had to check his equipment and then make a phone call.

Barnes opened the large duffel bag he had retrieved from the trunk of his car and spread the contents on the bed. He selected what he needed and put these items in a plastic laundry bag, compliments of the motel, and returned everything else to his car. He went back inside and wiped the room clean of prints, then stopped at the motel office where he checked out. Before leaving he asked to see their Philadelphia yellow pages. Not wanting the call to go through the motel phone system, when he found what he wanted he got in his car and drove to a diner about a mile down the road where he knew they had pay phones. His call to the police station was answered by a desk clerk who transferred him to the duty sergeant. Barnes had decided to pass himself off as a Philadelphia attorney, a real one out of the phone book - but one he hoped they didn't know. Using legal terminology gleaned from personal experience, Barnes explained that he had been retained to represent Muzzadin and wanted to come in to review the charges and to see his client. The sergeant cut him off before he could finish. "Don't waste your time, counselor, the prisoners are scheduled to be transferred to the county jail by mid-afternoon. I suggest you call Camden and arrange your meeting through them. They're calling the shots now, sorry." Barnes thanked him and hung up. This was exactly what he had hoped to hear. A lot of years had gone by, but the system hadn't changed.

Barnes needed a different car to carry out his plan, so he drove to a nearby shopping mall. He concentrated on an area of the parking lot where he noticed a lot of cars with sun reflectors stuck inside their windshields, a good indication of all-day parking by mall employees, and cruised the aisles until he spotted two likely targets. He pulled into an empty slot and waited. When the security truck made its next swing through the area Barnes immediately grabbed his equipment bag, locked his car, and walked cautiously to the two cars he had picked, parked next to each other. In a span of less than three minutes, he switched the plates of both cars, broke into the older of the two, and was headed out to the highway. He smiled and said to no one, "Brings back old memories - switching tags was my trademark. It's risky, but it confuses the shit out of everybody and buys me a lot of time. But hell, I guess I've lost some of my finesse; I used to do the whole deal in less than two minutes."

On the way to his destination he bought a newspaper and a container of coffee. When he arrived at the police station he parked on the street about half a block away, where the entire building was in his line of vision. After again checking his equipment on the front seat, he put the opened paper in front of him, sipped his coffee, and waited.

Barnes had to wait less than an hour for the Sheriff's van to arrive. It pulled close to the side of the building and an armed guard and driver got out and went inside. "Good," thought Barnes, "the driver doesn't seem to be armed. That makes it even easier." The van had double rear doors but no windows in the back at all. A few minutes later three shackled prisoners were led through a side door and placed in the rear of the van. It was Muzzadin, Salemi and a black guy. Muzzadin still had his arm in a sling. After padlocking the rear doors the driver and guard got back in the front of the van and backed out of the driveway. Barnes started his car and, keeping a safe distance behind, followed the van through the residential streets. Traffic was light, but it would be at least fifteen minutes before he reached the spot where he'd make his move.

About a mile outside of Camden there were three vacant buildings lining the right side of the highway, in the middle of which was a boarded-up former gas station. As the van neared the station, Barnes pulled close behind, then moved up on the right side. When he was close enough he reached through the open window and shot-out the van's front tire using his silenced Beretta. The van veered to the right and Barnes had to brake hard to avoid being sideswiped, but, as he had planned, the van driver steered into the vacant gas station, with Barnes right behind. The guard opened his door and started to exit, but before either, he or the driver knew what had happened Barnes jammed his gun in the guard's gut and forced him back into his seat.

"Unsnap your gun, now! Do it carefully and hand it to me with two fingers. Also the shotgun from the rack, and be quick about it. Screw with me and you're both dead." For emphasis, he jammed his gun hard into the roll of fat hanging over the guard's belt. When he had both, he put the guns on the ground and shoved them under the van with his foot. Satisfied that he had all their weapons, Barnes grabbed the guard's handcuffs from his belt and cuffed his left wrist to the steering wheel. In almost the same motion he grabbed the ignition keys and then snatched the radio mike and ripped it from the unit. He then stuck his gun in the driver's face. "All right buddy, where are the keys for the back doors?" The driver pointed to a single key hanging on the dash. "O.K., bring the key, get out your side and walk around the front of the van toward me, very slowly. Like I said, try anything cute and you're both dead."

As soon as he opened one rear door Barnes ordered the driver inside. "No, please don't put me in with them, they'll kill me!"

"That's your problem," Barnes answered. "I can't have you running around out here." With that, he grabbed the driver by the back of his collar and shoved him inside the van.

Muzzadin saw Barnes through the open door and as soon as the driver was inside he moved to the opening, with Salemi and the black guy right behind. Before they knew what was happening, Barnes snatched Muzzadin's sling and yanked him through doorway, then slammed the door in Salemi's face and replaced the lock. "Not you, shithead, I just want your boss."

Muzzadin was on the ground, twisting in pain. Even though his arm was in a sling his wrists were chained together. His legs were also manacled at the ankles. "You imbecile," he yelled, "you've injured my shoulder again. And let Bahram out of the truck, now! We need him."

"Not on your life, Muzzy old boy, I don't need him at all, I just need you. Now, get in my car, on the floor in the back, and be quick about it."

Barnes pulled away from the disabled Sheriff's van and the din created by the van driver, who was yelling and banging on the sides of the van. He headed back to the mall, with Muzzadin screaming obscenities at Barnes in his native tongue. Less than two minutes from the van a police cruiser flew past in the opposite direction, its lights flashing. "Hate to disappoint you, officer," Barnes said sarcastically, "but you're going the wrong way." Then he laughed.

When they arrived at the mall Barnes circled the area where he had left his car. Everything looked O.K. Surprisingly, the slot where the stolen car had been parked was still empty. He drove to where his car was parked and jumped out. In less a minute he transferred a protesting Muzzadin to his car's trunk, led by his wrist chains. Slamming the lid shut, Barnes, breathing hard, admitted out loud, "God, you're heavy, and it's a good thing you're hurting - I don't think I could handle you otherwise. And I know I'm a hell of a lot safer with you in there." Throwing the bag of tools on the back seat of his car, Barnes drove the stolen car back to its slot and carefully wiped it clean of his prints.

He had no intention of going back to the motel where they stayed the past few nights. Once Muzzadin's escape hit the news that desk clerk would be on the phone to the cops. He didn't like the place anyway, too many people milling around. For what he had to do now he needed to be isolated as much as possible.

Barnes headed east on Route 70 until he found a motel with units in the rear, facing away from the highway. "I'll only be here one night," he told the desk clerk. "I want a unit in the back where it's quiet. And make it a first-floor room, I don't like stairs...have a bad back." The clerk assured him it would be quiet, none of the other units back there were rented yet, and probably wouldn't be.

Barnes backed his car into the parking slot directly in front of his unit. After scanning the area he opened the trunk and led a very angry Muzzadin inside, cursing and fighting every step of the way. "Sit in that chair over there and keep quiet. I'm going to get my stuff out of the car, then I'll see what I can do to get those chains off. And if you want my help, don't try anything cute."

He had no intention of either removing Muzzadin's chains or helping him. To the contrary, when he returned a minute later with his gear he knew exactly what he'd do to make the foreigner cooperate.

Muzzadin slumped uncomfortably in the chair, rubbing his shoulder with his good hand. If he sat still he could relieve the burning ache in his shoulder, but not the jabbing pain from his broken ribs. Every breath was torture. "What game are you playing, Raymond? First, you leave Bahram behind, then you aggravate my injuries. True, you succeeded in freeing me from the police, but why the rough handling...have you forgotten who you are working for?"

"This is no game, Muzzy. The only reason you're here is to tell me about my money, so I didn't need to double my risk by springing your buddy. I only work when I get paid, and I haven't seen a dime yet. And by the way, since I know you were going to take off without paying me, my price is no longer three grand, it's now ten."

Muzzadin tried to get out of his chair but stopped when Barnes pushed him back and pointed a pistol in his face, the end of the silencer jammed under his nose. "This is a fool's errand, Raymond," he said with a forced smile. "Stop and think. My personal belongings and all of my money were in the car the police confiscated. I have nothing. As you say in this country, not even a pot to piss in. But, work with me and we can get more."

"I heard on the news exactly what the cops found in your car. Don't bullshit me, Muzzy, that was chump change. I know you have to have big money stashed somewhere, and I think you're going to tell me where. If you don't, I'm going to make you a cripple, one knee at a time."

With this, Barnes moved his Baretta down to Muzzadin's left knee, and clicked off the safety.

"Wait, wait, don't do anything foolish!" Beads of sweat glistened on Muzzadin's forehead. "Move that gun and maybe we can work out some way to get you your money."

"Not good enough, Muzzy. I need you to tell me something more definite than ?maybe'." Sliding the nine-millimeter between Muzzadin's legs he pulled-off a round, blowing a hole in the edge of the chair and missing his crotch by less than an inch. Muzzadin grabbed himself with both hands and recoiled back in the chair.

"All right, please, no more! I will tell you where more money is located. But we will have to get it together. Bahram and I have a small apartment in New York that we use as our base of operations. There is a key taped under a drawer. It is for a safe deposit box in a bank about two blocks away. The box contains the rest of my money, everything."

"How much?"

"Do not worry. You will get your ten thousand."

"One more time. How much is in the box?" Barnes again pointed the gun at Muzzadin's knee.

Muzzadin knew that to get out of this room alive he had to arouse Barnes's sense of greed, so he lied. "There is about ninety thousand in cash, plus some Mexican and Canadian money."

"Good, good," Barnes said, his eyes wide with excitement. That much money would enable him to take off for South America and buy him a great lifestyle. And down there he might even parlay it into really big money. "O.K., no point in wasting more time here, we're taking off for New York right now."

"There is not time today," Muzzadin countered, hoping his stall for time would work. "It is almost two hours from here and the bank will be closed."

"Dammit to hell, you're probably right," Barnes said, looking at his watch. "I'm not sitting up all night to watch you, though, so forget any ideas you may have about taking me down. You're going to spend the night tied in that chair. Behave yourself and we'll be out of here first thing in the morning."

Barnes slid the gun under his belt and reached across the bed to retrieve a length of nylon line from his duffle bag. He knew Muzzadin couldn't move fast, at least not without a lot of grunting and groaning.

It was the last mistake Barnes would ever make. By the time he sensed movement behind him the taut chain between Muzzadin's wrists was under his chin and violently twisted, lifting his feet from the floor and snapping his neck.

Muzzadin did groan with pain and Raymond Barnes died with a gurgling cry on his lips.

Originally published: Wednesday, March 21, 2007; most-recently modified: Wednesday, June 05, 2019