He didn’t really steal. He only stole from a thief. Borrowed to the Bone. Chapter 10

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Chapter 10

Clark was pacing the yard when the cab pulled up and both boys stepped out. “You boys in the chips now? Got the money to hire a cab? Where the hell you been?”

Ben Tom tried to walk past him, but Clark grabbed his arm. Ben Tom pulled his arm away and faced his usually calm uncle. A couple inches more and he would stand eye-to eye to him. “We were down at the car pound looking through a chain link fence at my car that you stole and got impounded.”

Clark’s eyes fluttered and widened as if he had been struck or was about to be. “You get on inside and look after Trez. You left him here by himself.”

“Trez has been big enough to stay by himself for a long time. He likes being alone so he can smoke that maryjane. Besides, it was safer here than taking him with us. He can’t keep his mouth shut longer than five minutes, especially when he’s high.”

Clark put his hand on Willy’s shoulder, led him to a ’63 ½ Ford parked in the street. They were gone before Ben Tom could ask where they were going. An hour later, they stopped in front of a trailer house in the deep woods south and east of Dallas, near Terrell. The trailer’s insides had been gutted and looted of every appliance and strip of copper.

Clark pulled back a piece of worn, filthy carpet, revealing a rotting plywood floor. He took a hay hook from a kitchen drawer and put the end into a hole in the plywood that seemed to have been sized for the hook. He pulled the sheet of plywood loose and slid it across the floor to reveal a stairway.

Willy peered into the dark hole as Clark pointed a flashlight down the stairs. “A basement in a trailer house?” How’s that possible?”

Clark tested the first step on the ladder. “It’s an old storm cellar. I just pulled this piece-of -shit trailer house over it and installed that old attic ladder to reach down. Had to shore up the walls so water couldn’t get in. Follow me.”

Willy stepped back as Clark’s head disappeared down the hole. “I ain’t going down there. You know I’m afraid of snakes.”

“Hell’s bells, you won’t even have to step off the ladder. Come on. I need to show you this stuff.”

Willy eased down but kept both feet on the ladder.

Clark opened a hinged door to a cedar chest big enough to hold two bodies and Willy fully expected to see them when he looked inside. The inside of the box looked even more like a coffin. It was lined with something that could have been purple velour.

“This box is fully insulated and cushioned. I don’t even think water can get inside it when it’s properly closed. Temperature won’t vary all that much, either, even down in this hole. And not much humidity.”

Willy was fascinated. “What’s that you got covered up?”

Clark was impatient. “Stop asking questions and listen. You’re the only one I can trust. What I’m about to tell you is important. A buddy of mine works at the Amon Carter Museum over in Fort Worth and told me how they store works of art. I ordered this box, then did some custom work on it so I could leave it down here.”

“What are those little pills, moth balls?”

“No, they’re supposed to control humidity.”

Clark pulled away a sheet of material that looked like thick silk to Willy, revealing a western painting. He pulled away another and revealed two bronze sculptures of mounted cowboys. The flashlight made them all seem to come alive. He half expected the cowboys to talk. “What is all that?” He couldn’t help but notice that Clark’s usually calm exterior had given way to trembling hands.

“These are original works of art by famous artists.”

“Where’d you get these pieces?”

“I stole them from another thief. He probably took them out of a museum of from a rich cat somewhere.”

Willy took a deep breath. “This thief—does he know you’re the one what stole his stuff?”

“Not yet. If he finds out, your life and mine won’t be worth a plug nickel. He’s well connected.”

“Why me?”

“Everybody knows you’re my apprentice. They’ll come after both of us.”

“I don’t want no part of any big time art shit.”

“Well, you’re part of this now whether you want to be or not.”

They stepped out of hole in the floor and Clark pulled the cover and carpet back into place. “Now listen, Willy. I may be going away for a while. If I do, I may call or send you a message one day to come and get one or two of these pieces and deliver it someplace.”

Clark grabbed Willy’s shirt collar and pulled him close enough to smell his breath and the fear oozing out of his glands. “You understand that?”

Willy nodded. “Where you going?”

“If I can sell one of these pieces and get a fake passport, I’m headed to South America. If not, I may go to jail for that stuff they found in Ben Tom’s car. Hell, that piss-ant haul they found wouldn’t pay for the price of this box alone.”

“When you gonna find out?”

“I’m waiting on my lawyer. If he can get me a passport before I have to go to trial, I’m gone. If not, I may have to cop to a few burglaries and spend some time in jail.”

“How long you had this stuff?”

“Never mind that. Long enough.”

“You never hang on to stolen stuff. Why this?”

“I told you. This is original art. You can’t just sell it at a flea market. It’s worth tens, if not hundreds of thousands. But it’s too hot to fence. Can’t get anybody to touch it yet.”

Willy whistled under his breath. “You’re a rich man.”

“Can’t spend money you don’t have.

“So, all I have to do is wait till I hear from you if you leave? Don’t I need to get Ben Tom to drive me out here once in a while to check on it?

Clark jabbed a finger hard into Willy’s chest. “You can’t ever tell Ben Tom. He’d turn it in to the cops or give it away. I’m gonna leave you the keys to my old pickup. I’ll take you to get your driver’s license tomorrow and can drive out here once every month or so. Don’t come more often. People will notice and be suspicious.

Willy already saw himself driving the pickup. “I can do that.”

Clark showed him his hiding place for a key behind some underpinning by the front steps. “I’ll leave the second key in the ashtray of the pickup.”

“If it was me, I’d padlock both doors.”

Clark laughed. “You ought to know by now that would just attract thieves. They can take the roof or sides off this dump in a matter of minutes. Two padlocks would just make ‘em curious. I’m betting they won’t ever notice that loose sheet of plywood if they do break in. Thieves around here already know that everything worth having in here has already been stolen.”

Willy laughed. “Except for hundreds of thousands in artwork.”

Chapters of the serial are published on Friday.

You can learn more about Borrowed to the Bone and other titles by Jim H. Ainsworth on his Amazon Author Page.

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