Thursday, January 23, 2014

How do you bring down the symbol of privilege and corruption that is the exclusive men's club?

   The fourth installment from the novel, World's End:
                                         (well, maybe just a bit less dramatically...)

                                                                                       You all right?
The stolen laundry van eased through the gutter of Baronne Street, without the aid of lights. It stopped half a block from Canal, next to a reef of garbage cans set out for the morning pickup. Revelers straggled out of the Quarter, bound for the trolley stop at Carondelet, but Baronne was deserted. The doorman at the Fairmont-Roosevelt had already retreated inside the hotel, where he would sleep fitfully in a chair until the arrival of the final editions of the Times-Picayune roused him to the abrupt light of dawn.
The driver of the van was Terry Estopinal, a member of the NOPD who was tonight freelancing. He did not wear a uniform, however, but a dark Windbreaker and a longshoreman's cap. His van contained no laundry. Cloth bags stuffed with blankets were stacked against the back door, and on the floor was a pile of tools — sledge hammers, axes, crowbars, electric chain saws, staple guns. There was also a coil of steel cable, a steel pulley, extension cords, a welding torch with a special trolley for the acetylene and oxygen tanks, and a big hydraulic jack.
Terry Estopinal decided to wait a few minutes more, to make sure the doorman at the Fairmont-Roosevelt stayed put. He lit a cigarette and tried to relax. He had grown up in the Channel and though he was only half Irish, it was the right half. As a moonlighter he had accepted some unorthodox assignments but tonight's was the most unorthodox yet. He would have thought it a joke if it had not come from the O'Neills. On his last job for them he had pumped bullets into Scorse more for the satisfaction than the money.
He climbed out and crossed the pavement to an iron gate separating the church from the back of the department store. He took a bent metal shaft with a flattened tip from his Windbreaker pocket, inserted it in the crude keyhole, and sprang the bolt. He pushed the gate into the dark alleyway and returned to the van. He opened the back doors and began to toss cloth bags out onto the pavement.
The second van pulled up behind him and more men in Windbreakers piled out. They didn't speak but picked up the bags and hustled them into the alleyway. They returned for the tools, emptying the van, then massed in the alley. Terry closed the van doors and followed, closing the iron gate without letting it lock, and worked his way to the head of the procession. He pulled the four-battery flashlight from his back pocket, switched it and led the men into darkness reeking of garbage, the circle of light on slick stone, the only sounds the jangle of metal against metal and the squeak of the wheel on the gas tank trolley. The alleyway opened onto the rear courtyard of the Bayou Club where the other men waited while Terry circled the building. Satisfied that the club was deserted, he whispered, "Matty?"
 A stocky figure came out of the darkness followed by two more carrying the hydraulic jack. They all went up the steps and began to work on the jamb. Terry heard old wood creak and split, and the door popped open. Tools banged and scraped against the paneling as they made their way through the darkness. The lights of Canal Street shone dimly through the windows of the lounge, outlining the heavy furniture. The tools were dumped in the middle of the carpet. Several men took blankets from the bags and staple guns and covered the windows while Matty went to work on the main supporting beam with the torch. Terry led the rest of the work force upstairs. Once the windows were covered he switched on the lights, and a sigh went up from the other men: the tables had already been set for the next day's luncheon - starched white cloths, folded napkins.
Putting his broad back into the effort, he swung his ax against the baseboard, sending wood chips flying. The men peeled the carpet back and went to work on the wide cedar boards with crowbars. When the joists were exposed they plugged in the saws, and chains bit noisily into the seasoned wood. They worked steadily for two hours, determined to be done get before dawn, the men coughing through their labor. Now Terry could hear water running down the inside of the walls, and the spit and crackle of the welding torch below. He pulled a comer of blanket away from the front window and looked out into Canal Street. A squad car moved along the opposite side, the man riding shotgun playing the beam of his flashlight over the storefronts. Terry waited until the car had crossed Baronne, then went on up the stairs.
The room above the dining room was smaller and almost empty of furniture. A portable bar stood in one comer. The others followed him up and went to work on those floor boards and joists, while Terry and another guy shoved bar into the center of the room. They lifted a corner and slipped a loop of cable underneath; the man climbed onto the bar and drove the heavy eyebolt attached to the pulley into an overhead beam, using the butt of an ax. He inserted a crowbar and screwed the bolt into six inches of hardwood. Then they lifted the far comer of the bar, inserted another loop of cable, and screwed down the clamps, tightly trussing the heavy wood under Formica.
Terry threaded the cable through the pulley, opened the back window and heaved out the coils. He breathed in fresh air, listening for the sound of the winch. The sky had begun to lighten in the east but he still couldn't see the men working in the alley below.
The cable stretched taut, the beam creaked, and the bar heaved up off the floor. Pieces of plaster the size of dinner plates popped free from the ceiling, shattered when they hit. But the eyebolt held. The bar rose higher and higher, turning lazily in the air until it rested eight feet above disaster. 
They worked feverishly now, a new smell in the air, not the reek of burnt insulation or of the dust and grime, but fear. As each man finished his job, he left his tool and, hugging the wall, inched his way around to the head of the stairs. Then he fled. Terry was the last, cutting on the final joist until the chain broke. He left the saw sticking in the floor like a knife in a cake.
The dining room was cluttered with fallen posts, sawdust, bits of wood. The floor sagged visibly, the tables still neatly set. The back courtyard was empty and he could just see Matty standing in the alleyway, smoking, hand cupped about the bright coal. Terry turned and looked up the cable to the point where it disappeared behind the blanket over the third floor window.
"It's your show, Terry," said Matty.
He reached for the winch, secured to the iron grill.
"Watch out for that handle.”
Terry eased down on the lever and the handle did spin like a propeller. A heavy thunk carried down to them and in the silence that followed he heard failure. Then came the crash. The floors collapsed, one upon the other, shaking the earth, trapped air blowing out the windows as in a hurricane. Shattered glass rained over the courtyard, trailing torn curtains and blankets from the dark cavities. What was now the shell of the Bayou Club breathed a cloud of dust that rolled up the adjacent brick walls.
The two men raced down the alley toward the waiting van.                                                                                         

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