At Providence's Gate
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Chapter Eight

     John made it until 5 pm Tuesday without Abe suspecting that his comfortable business world of the past 48 years was about to crumble.  The 4.5 million dollars worth of diamonds had been delivered the day before.  John had assisted the old jeweler in putting them in the proper vault drawer.  Ina and the two new jewelers were scheduled to meet Wednesday morning to develop a production schedule.  The gems would be individual scrutinized and the best would be chosen to become part of the first pieces of the Ina Collection.

     Abe was in the showroom with one of the exchanges best clients, a Vietnamese jewelry maker from Houston who visited monthly and made a hefty purchase of diamonds each time, usually paying in cash which he carried in a beat up old attaché case.

     The old man knew John had a 5:30 pm class on Tuesdays and Thursdays so he paid little attention when the young man came into the showroom carrying a garbage bag.  As John emptied the trash can into the bag, he looked at Abe and mouthed, Im going to school now.  Walstein acknowledged John as he waved goodbye and mouthed, See you tomorrow.

     When John left the showroom, he went to the back door and opened it so his boss would hear its chime and assume John had left.  As he began to step out, the crafty actor made a gesture indicating he had forgotten something and he closed the door and walked off camera toward the janitors closet.  This charade was for the benefit of whoever happened to be watching the monitor this evening.

     Jon walked briskly to the closet and quickly entered the small room that was to become his hiding place for the next seven hours.  He had already removed the closet key from the keybox and Walsteins key ring, just in case the old man, for the first time in over a year, decided to clean something.

     Although John wasnt totally certain when Abe would be leaving the building, he knew the old jeweler to be a creature of habit who usually left between 6:45 and 7:15 pm.  This day was to be no exception and when John heard the keypad of the security system being punched, he checked the luminous dial of his Seiko watch.  It was 7:07 pm.  He had nearly five hours to go in the cramped closet before his boys would take care of the power at Alamo Alarm.

     While John was sitting out the evening in total darkness, Al was picking up Frank at his apartment near North Star Mall.  The duo then drove to Ingram park Mall where Frank planned to locate a pickup truck that was suitable for the nights activity.  Driving slowly through the huge parking lot, they noticed a black Ford F350 with a supercab pulling into a space.  They passed by the truck slowly and continued n wile its driver got out and entered

The Sears Store.

     Al returned to the target truck and dropped Frank off.  In less than a minute, with the help of a Ford master ignition key he had borrowed from his fathers business, Frank was leaving the mall parking lot.  Al had already left, heading toward Mels apartment in Alamo Heights.

     When he arrived at the Terrel Apartments it was exactly 8:30 pm, the exact time noted in the plan the crew worked out the previous Sunday.  Mel saw Al arrive from his first floor efficiency apartment and he doused all the lights and went out to meet his partner.  John will be so proud, Mel told Al, who grinned.

     The two stopped at the HEB Marketplace on Broadway, the nearest supermarket to Mels apartment.  The upscale version of the famous old Texas grocery chains newest store in San Antonio was just six blocks from the Alamo Alarm Company.  Mel went in while Al stayed in his car with the motor running.  He returned minutes later with a five-pound bag of sugar, 12-pack of Shiner Bock beer and a 10 pound bag of ice.

     After putting the beer on ice in the cooler Al kept in his back seat, they drove to the nearby alarm company.  Al parked his car in the lot next to the alarm company and both men got into the waiting cargo van that had been stolen earlier in the morning and parked there all day.  Pulling out of the parking lot and driving behind the alarm companys building, Al felt fortunate to find a vacant space right next to the emergency generator he was about to disable.

     It was raining quite steadily when the cargo van pulled in.  The clouds made the area around the generator seem even darker and Mel was glad for the rain because it meant less pedestrian traffic to catch him in the act of sabotaging Alamo Alarms auxiliary power plant.

     Grabbing a big plastic funnel from the back seat, Mel opened his door and made his way swiftly and quietly to the generator.  Locating the filler line to the fuel tank, he unscrewed the cap, inserted the funnel and deposited the five-pounds of sugar into the tank in under a minute.  Less than two minutes after they arrived, Al and Mel were back on Broadway heading toward a 9:00 pm rendevouz with Frank behind a Diamond Shamrock convenience store on nearby Austin Highway.

     Frank had driven directly from the mall to the meeting place and had been waiting nearly an hour.  Al pulled up next to the stolen F350 at exactly the appointed time and when Frank saw it stop next to his pickup, he lowered its tailgate, effectively obscuring the rear license plates by placing a blanket over it.  He then entered the van from the back door and was immediately greeted by Mel, who handed him a cold bottle of Shiner Bock.

     The three old friends drank in silence for a few moments until Frank made a joke about their chosen attire for the evening.  Although no one had discussed what the well-dressed accomplices should wear this robbing season, each man had black jeans or trousers, black sweat shirts and black San Antonio Spurs caps.  They looked like a fashionable version of the Beagle Boys.

     Coincidentally, while the boys were enjoying their brews and admiring each others choice of outfits, John was changing into, you guessed it, a black turtle neck shirt.  He already was wearing black Docker trousers.

     There were still nearly three hours to go before he could expect a phone call telling him it was safe to leave his dark prison.  He ad been sitting there for four hours with nothing to do but think about all the things that still could go wrong.  What if Frank was caught stealing the truck or Mel got nabbed sugaring the generator?  He imagined a squad of police officers waiting for him in the parking lot, or worse yet, ready to burst into the exchange and yank him out of his hiding place

     John wanted so badly to call one of his cohorts just to find out if everything was alright.  But it was he who imposed a requirement for what the old war movies called, radio silence.  He had to practice discipline if he was to expect it from his team.

     Besides, thought John, if there had been a problem requiring the abortion of the mission, one of the guys would have called him.  That had been worked out in the meeting Sunday, so no matter how maddening the silence, silence was good.  It meant everything up to this point had gone off as planned.  It meant he was that much closer to his big score.

     No more stealing clothes from mens stores, Jason Biggs, AKA John Boucher, had made the big time.  He envisioned his picture posted on walls of government buildings across the country, his story being presented on Americas Most Wanted, all as he lay on a sandy white beach in Rio surrounded by tall, tanned, beautiful Brazilian women.

     It wasnt really the money that drove him any longer.  It was the challenge, the sense of accomplishment he would feel at pulling off the biggest diamond heist in the history of the world. John fantasized about movies being made about his exploits, maybe a big book deal that puts him on the New York Times Bestsellers List for weeks on end.

     Yet, he also knew it was the value of the diamonds he was about to steal that would make him famous.  His modus operandi would be lectured about in police academies and universities across the country.  Other criminals would study his hest, learn from it and perhaps emulate it.  The very thought of the stature among thieves and the infamy among law enforcement officers that he would achieve created a euphoria that replaced the claustrophobic feelings that had him ready to jump out of his skin just moments before.

     As Johns fears were replaced with visions of fame, Mel, Frank and Carr continued to quaff 12 ounce bottles of Shiner as if they were soda pop.  They all marveled at the taste of that incredible brew made in the small town of Shiner, about halfway between San Antonio and Houston.  By 11:30, each man was downing his last 12 ounce bottle of the beer.

     Far from being drunk but enjoying the buzz that provided a courage and confidence they otherwise may not have enjoyed if completely sober, a look at their watches told them it was time to get down to business.  They went over the events that were about to take place and by 11:50 pm, with less than ten minutes until the fireworks were scheduled to start, Al and Frank said so long to Mel and got into the stolen pickup truck.

     Mel left the parking lot first.  He would position the stolen cargo van almost a block from the Alamo Alarm Company. From there he could see the power pole and even hear the humming of its transformer.  He also could survey Broadway to the north and south so he could warn the boys of any cops he saw patrolling the area.

     Broadway was a far busier street than the little one the fire station was located on and even at midnight there still was a fair amount of traffic traveling on it.  The plan called for Frank to ring Mel on his cell phone when he reached the intersection of Austin Highway and Broadway.  When Mel answered he would say one of two words, abort or go.

     Mel sat in the van, mobile phone in his hand. The digital clock on the dashboard and Mels own wrist watch both read 11:58.  The phone rang.  Mel looked up and down Broadway.  Not a cop in sight.  Go, he said clearly after he depressed the green button on the phone.  Then he started the vans engine, grateful that this job would soon be over.

     The big black stolen F350 supercab pickup truck came barreling down Broadway at what seemed to Mel to be at least 50 miles per hour.  It looked to Mel to be traveling at a much higher rate f speed than the truck used in the test the previous week.  Even though he had witnessed a similar event less than a week ago, the impact of steel, glass and wood sent a shudder through Mels entire body.

     The pole behaved exactly as it should have after being struck by two tons of steel traveling at a high rate of speed.  It came crashing to the ground in an array of white hot sparks that would rival the finale of most Fourth of July fireworks displays.  But something had gone terribly wrong.  The power pole had sheered off at the point of impact.  The bottom of the front of the pickup rested on the portion still in the ground.

     The trucks airbags had both deployed and this disoriented Al and Frank.  The pickup used in the test did not have airbags.  Even before the bags began to deflate, the F350 burst into flames and instantly exploded.  Al and Frank didnt even have a chance to unbuckle their seat belts before the incredible conflagration seared their lungs and almost instantly killed them.

     Mel looked on in helpless horror as his two friends died a gruesome death.  Then, quickly regaining control of his faculties, he pulled away from the awful scene and drove three blocks before pulling into a parking space to call John.

     When his mobile phone rang at 12:07 am, John answered angrily, Well its about goddamned time! Mel, still shaken by the cremation of two of his best friends said simply, Theyre dead Jason, theyre dead.  John waited a beat then asked, But is the power off?  Mel screamed in to the receiver of his phone, Goddamit Jason, they are dead!!

     Realizing something had gone terribly wrong and knowing he needed Mel to be clear headed and responsive at this point in time, John said soothingly, Mel, if our friends are dead we cant help them now.  There is still a lot at stake here, more than before.  Get a grip on yourself and please, answer me, is the power off?

     Mel took a deep breath and said slowly and deliberately, Fuck yes, the power is off, but Al and Frank are dead, I watched them burn up.  I couldnt do anything.  It was awful Jason, just awful.  John responded in a low calm voice, Okay old friend, you go home, get some rest.  I will call you around 10 am tomorrow.  He then pushed the end button on his phone and said in a clearly audible voice, More money for me.