by Nikki Everts
Louise peeked through the curtains drawn across her living room window. Bea was hobbling up the front walk. She really did need a walker, one with a place to put her enormous purse. She was struggling to keep it from falling off her shoulder.
“Well, she’s almost here,” Louise announced.
“Could you repeat that, dear? I didn’t quite catch it.” Pauline leaned forward, cupping her beringed hand around an equally decorated ear.
Louise sighed; Pauline refused to wear her hearing aid. “I said Bea’s coming down the walk.” She made sure to enunciate carefully and look directly at Pauline whose slight form almost disappeared into the overstuffed chair where Louise sat most evenings to knit and watch TV.
“Oh, well, that’s a relief!” Pauline exclaimed, patting her perfectly coiffed hairdo, currently dyed a dazzling platinum blond.
“Ah was gettin’ a mite worried,” stated Elsie, gesturing in the air with her cane and nearly whacking Marjorie who was sitting next to her on the couch.
“It’s damn well about time!” hissed Marjorie, oblivious to her danger and shifting her bulk impatiently. “I just hope she brought the money and instructions for our next job this time. You know her memory is starting to go.”
“She’s toting that godawful carpet bag of hers, so I expect she’s brought the instructions,” said Louise, a little out of breath. A lifetime of smoking was catching up with her. She had quit three years ago, and her breathlessness was a constant reminder not to backslide.
“Why on earth does she have to be our go-between, Louise?” asked Marjorie
“Because,” Louise took a deep breath, held it — digging deep for the patience she had always relied on during her years teaching grade seven English — released it and said, “Her nephew is our contact, Marjorie, and you’ve got to admit she is the least suspicious of us. Also, she can’t go on the actual road trips, not with her, ah, forgetfulness.”
“If by that you mean her dementia, I couldn’t agree with you more,” huffed Marjorie.
“Now, ya’ll, be nice; no need to get upset, Marjorie; we all agreed that Bea would be the contact.” Elsie leaned over and patted Marjorie’s plump floral-draped arm.
“Besides, she didn’t need the walker when we first started up,” piped up Pauline, who had taken out her compact and was reapplying her lipstick; not all of which ended up where she would have liked it to.
Once Bea was safely ensconced on the couch, sitting rather uncomfortably between Marjorie and Elsie, puffing heavily and smiling vaguely through her unruly mop of white, shoulder length hair, Louise distributed the four neat packages pulled from the disparaged carpet bag. Each one contained a map with their route traced in red highlighter, a set of car keys, a slip of paper with the make, model, colour and license plate numbers of a stolen car, a wallet containing a fake driver’s licence along with $200 each in pesos and dollars, a phoney passport, and a disposable cell phone with four phone numbers in the contacts list: three that would connect them with each of the other women and a fourth to be dialled if anything went wrong.
* * *
The next morning, Louise, accompanied by Marjorie, Pauline and Elsie, drove her late model Ford Fairlane into the visitor parking of the Cedars-Sinai Hospital in Beverly Hills. The parking lot was busy as a beehive, and no one paid the least attention to four little old ladies driving around in a seemingly befuddled manner.
Louse dropped Pauline off at the black Mercedes, Marjorie at the grey Rolls Royce, and Elsie at the dark blue Thunderbird, recently stolen. Their job was to drive these cars to Mexico and hand them over to the “dealer.”
Louise assuaged her momentary pang of guilt with the thought that each of these cars would be easily replaced by owners who had more money than they knew what to do with. And, really, the “donation” of their vehicles was funding a very worthy cause. Louise wondered for a moment if good karma would come to those who did unintentional good deeds such as having their cars stolen for a good purpose.
Louise found a parking spot between a neon pink BMW and a little red Porsche; she was glad she had splurged on the VIP carwash option. Louise had also changed the license plates on her car. The new ones were registered to a Mr. Humbert Humbert with a bogus address in San Francisco. Louise smiled at her private little joke; the five of them had met and bonded over fifty years ago at a book club. The first book they’d read and discussed had been Vladimir Nabakov’s Lolita.
Louise carefully placed her parking chit on the dashboard so it was visible through the window. She got out and locked the car. It was only 9:00 a.m., but the spring day already felt unseasonably warm. Louise had located the green Jaguar, and thankfully had found a parking spot just five spots away from it. Still, she was a little breathless by the time she slipped into the smooth leather seats of the expensive sports car. She felt a familiar thrill whisper through her body. She was a spinster, a retired school teacher, and this surely beat knitting in front of the TV.
* * *
A day and a half later, the four elderly women were sipping iced drinks in the shade of a palm tree at the Mango Mango bar in Enseñada, Mexico. The four stolen cars were safely parked, and the trip down had gone without a hitch.
Louise picked up her drink, a virgin Margarita replete with a tiny colourful parasol, and allowed herself to feel just a little bit pleased at how smoothly things had gone so far. She had thoroughly enjoyed driving in the svelte air-conditioned luxury of the Jag, and the look of puzzled surprise on the border guard when he saw her sitting in that plush bucket seat was icing on the cake. She felt almost smug; yes, she woud miss this.
“The heat’s enough to send a body ’round the bend,” said Marjorie. She waved a gaudy fan, and her flabby arms undulated like an underwater sea plant. “Are you sure this is the right place?”
“Yes, I’m sure; he’ll be here soon,” placated Louise.
“Well, he’s late,” snapped Marjorie who always had to have the last word.
“Not very, just ten minutes,” said Pauline, looking at her watch, a silver and jewelled contraption that was a gift from her third and late husband, Marvin.
“In Mexico, that’s considered early,” said Elsie, and they all laughed.
Finally, a slight, dark man dressed in a beige suit and carrying a briefcase, approached them, tipped his hat and said, “Mind if I join you ladies?”
“Of course, sir,” replied Elsie, gesturing to the empty chair between Louise and Pauline.
Pauline smiled, batted an impressive array of false eyelashes, offered him her hand and said, “Charmed, I’m sure.” The man smiled, kissed her finger tips and sat down. Pauline looked like the cat that had just eaten the canary.
Marjorie rolled her eyes and gave Louise the Look. Louise just shrugged. Some things never changed, she thought; Pauline’s mood always improved whenever a man showed up, while Marjorie’s always worsened.
Elsie and Marjorie sipped their fancy drinks in silence and watched the waves of heat rise off the sidewalk. Pauline chatted animatedly with the man beside her while Louise surreptitiously opened the briefcase the man had placed between them. She found the manila envelope inside and, as unobtrusively as possible, flipped through the banded wad of U.S. dollars inside.
Louise touched the man’s arm, glanced up at him and nodded to confirm that the full amount was there. He replied with a smile then stood up, tipped his hat, paid their bill and left. As planned, his briefcase stayed behind.
* * *
It took them another 45 minutes to find the washroom, use it, buy bottled water, repair make-up, take medication, and do five minutes of mindfulness breathing. If Marjorie hadn’t poked her when they were finally all ready to leave, Louise would’ve forgotten the man’s briefcase filled with the money, keys and instructions for the next phase of their adventure.
A taxi dropped them off in the parking lot beside the El Cid Best Western hotel, where the four women found, as promised, the two clunkers they’d be driving home: a pale blue Chevy Caprice Classic and an older model, silver Honda Honda. For everyone’s peace of mind, Louise and Marjorie rode together in the Honda, while Pauline drove the Chevy with Elsie riding shotgun.
They drove north along Highway 1 following it into the coastal range. Eventually they turned onto a dirt road snaking off through hills covered with Manzanita and cactus. Half an hour later, the dirt road petered out into a stand of stunted oaks in a gully. The Chevy pulled in beside the Honda.
Louise rolled down her window; the sudden heat made her dizzy. “We’re lost,” she mumbled as Pauline got out of the Chevy and walked around to the driver’s side of the Honda.
“Elsie thought she saw the turn-off about ten minutes before we took this one,” said Pauline, her bracelets jangled against the car door as she leaned in through the window. The heat never got her down.
“OK,” Louise said with a sigh, “let’s go back. You lead the way.” She turned the car around and followed the Chevy as it drove off in a cloud of dust.
* * *
Copyright © 2020 by Nikki Everts