SIX WAYS FROM SUNDAY
Boot Williams loaded his automatic and checked for the spare box he kept in the glove compartment. He was down to the final twelve hours.
It had been a long week for him. Six fugitives, in Six days. He still couldn’t believe what had happened to him. He was five hours from St. Louis and the courthouse. But he still had time. All he needed to do was get them all back in one piece and the money was his. That little grocery store in Carondelet was starting to look better and better all the time. He just needed the money this job would give him.
Shoving the gun under his jacket, Boot saw the pay phone on the corner and pulled up to it. He grabbed a handful of change out the coffee can on the floor and opened the door. Was it Sunday already? It had to be, the newspaper box for the Dispatch was on the corner and it was the final Sunday edition. How the hell did they get those papers out here so fast? Maybe the final edition in St. Louis wasn’t the same one they got in Springfield, it was hard to tell.
He rubbed the sleep out of his eyes and looked around. There were a few stores on the corner and a small pizza shop next to them. It was already ten in the morning and the pizza shop was getting ready to open. The owner was staring at him as Boot walked up to the pay phone. Or maybe he was staring at the Volkswagen he’d driven into town. He couldn’t tell which.
“That’s right,” he mumbled to himself. “A big black man just rode up in a little VW. You saw right, home slice.”
Boot remembered to take off his sunglasses and put them in the pocket of his jacket. It was early May, but the weather down near Lake of the Ozarks could be unpredictable. He hated the cold. St. Louis never got as cold as Milwaukee, where his former wife now lived, which was another reason to stay the hell away from the place.
“Good morning,” a voice said from behind him.
Boot turned around to face the pizza shop owner, still wearing his apron.
“Am I blocking something?” Boot asked. No time to get a ticket now.
“No,” the man said. “I just wanted to make sure I saw this for real. You drive that VW?”
“Yes I do. And why do you ask?”
“How do you fit into it? You have to be at least, what, six three?
“Six four to be exact. And two eighty when I haven’t been working out.”
“I just wondered why,” the pizza shop owner continued. “Wouldn’t a larger car be comfortable?”
“It would be,” Boot returned, rubbing his shaven head, “but I can park this car just about anywhere. Comes in real handy with the kind of work I do.”
“Okay. What line of work are you in?”
“Oh, a lawyer?”
“No, I’m a bail bondsman.”
He continued walking to the pay phone while speaking.
“And right now, I’ve got to find someone. If he isn’t in court by midnight, the shit is really going to hit the fan.”
Pulling out a phone number, Boot rapidly dialed it and waited for ring. The phone on the other end rang four times and was picked up.
“Hello,” said a seductive female voice. “Williams Bonds. Can I help you?”
“When I get back, Corrine, honey,” he said. “This is Boot. I need the phone number of the local police department for Springfield. I left it next to the phone. Can you see it?”
“Got it baby,” she said, “You want me to read it off. I miss you.”
“Miss you too, little girl, I should be home tonight and we can have fun. I just have one more of those bastards to cuff and it’s all over. I’m seeing the end of this mess and it couldn’t be sooner.”
“Okay, Boot,” the voice said on the other end. “Here it is. You be safe.”
He started to write down the number she was about to give him when the glass on the booth began falling apart from the bullets. Boot fell to the floor in a defensive posture and fought to bring out his gun while glass pieces flew above him. The gunshots were ringing out in the distance and he couldn’t tell which direction. It was worse than Vietnam.
It had seemed like a gravy job, the one the lawyer brought him. Boot was sitting in his office when the man from the law office in Clayton rolled in with a fist full of paperwork. It had been a lazy afternoon, the Cardinals weren’t looking so hot and traffic from the new downtown center was leveling off for the afternoon. His office at eighteenth and Chouteau wasn’t very busy that day. With all the great changes promise by Mayor Vince “The Prince” Schoemehl, you would’ve thought business should be booming. But not just yet. Maybe when Regan finished his latest term.
Boot had left the St. Louis Police Department fifteen years earlier after finally having saved the money to get his bail bonding company off the ground. It took some leg pulling from a few north side politicians, but he was eventually able to quit the force and start issuing bonds to keep all kinds of riff raff out from behind bars. He felt they should be grateful to him. For just ten percent plus expenses many of the city’s finest citizens were out walking instead of wearing a stencil awaiting their trial.
Boot had earned his name from hunting down a man who had tried to run out-of-town after he’d posted the bond through Boot’s company. The man was about to go up on drunk driving charges and decided the courts would never locate him in San Diego if he stayed with his cousin. He got as far as Columbia when the bondsman had located him. Witnesses claimed Boot had shot the boot leather off the man before hauling him back to St. Louis.
The courts allowed a bondsman only so much time to return a fleeing fugitive or they would lose the bond posted. Boot wasn’t about to lose any of the money he’d posted. If he put money up for a client, he was going to get it back. He knew many of the people who came to him personally. He also loaned out money whenever someone needed it and was always repaid. It was tough business to be in and he wasn’t about to hire someone to bring a fugitive back. Some jobs you have to do yourself, he felt.
But to make his point, he had a small display at the front of his one-room office. His place was located near Mill Valley and just a few blocks from the court-house. Anyone who saw the neon sign for Williams Bonds on the big plate-glass window and entered his office would see a counter and a bench. The bench faced the counter and was right behind the window. Next to the bench was a cactus Boot liked to keep around because it didn’t need much care. But on the counter was the real attraction: two sixteen pound Olympic style shot put balls wielded together. Anyone who asked about them would be told: “Boot has bigger ones in his pants.”
Anyone entering Williams Bonds would also encounter Corrine Adams, Boot’s secretary, office assistant and general person who got things done. He needed her around to run paper work over to the courthouse, make copies on the photocopier, keep the files organized, feed the cat, and teach him how to use the computer he’s bought last month. The last one was the most difficult. Boot was known to swear at the machine and even threatened to toss it through the window if it didn’t give him what he wanted.
Corrine was also the closest thing Boot had to a girlfriend. She lived in Jennings and commuted each day on route forty. Boot treated her with respect and expected the same from his clients. Many clients had found their fees suddenly shooting upward when Boot had discovered they’d tried to get her phone number. Corrine was hands off as far as anyone was concerned.
Boot had just returned from East St. Louis that day trying to collect a debt owed to him by a former client who needed a bond posted, but didn’t have a lot of cash. He’d signed over a motorcycle to the bondsman. Unfortunately for him the trial didn’t go as expected and he’d entered up being sentenced for assault. Since there was no way the man was ever going to be able to pay him cash, Boot had to go across the river and sell the motorcycle. He hated having to do it, but the man understood the chance he took. He also should have known better than to pick a fight in a honky-tonk with a relative of Carl Officer, the mayor of East St. Louis.
It was a humid day. St. Louis was known for its humidity. The day wasn’t as hot and humid as it could get: no fish were swimming through the air. But the theaters with their air conditioning would be popular. Boot thought about a new ice cream parlor as he walked into the office. He needed to stop by it on the way home to his place in Soulard. Right now an ice cream sounded like a good idea.
“Anyone come in since I’ve been gone?” he asked Corrine before bending over to kiss her. She was small, not much more than five two and Boot towered over her. He delighted in her small size and weight; wearing short skirts excited the clients in the office and helped with repeat business. Just so long as they understood hands were to be kept away.
“No, Boot. Just a few women looking for donations. Catholic nuns. I sent them on up to the paint factory up the street.” She placed a carbon in the electric typewriter and began putting a bill together.
Boot turned and looked in the direction of the factory. It had a large sign on the top, but the letters kept burning out. The place was known as SparCoat Paint, but today it was “Sp_r__at” Paint. Word on the street was the factory wasn’t doing so well and laid some people off.
“I wouldn’t be sending them over there,” he told her. “I think that place needs to get help, not be giving it out. Their business gets any worse; it might be going up in flames like the other place.”
Another factory had burned two years earlier, which more than a few people found suspicious. Nothing was ever proven, but the owner had made out okay on the insurance pay-out.
“We could use a better class of criminal,” Boot stated. “I’m getting tired of all these drunk driving and domestic bonds. They add up, but the big money ends up in the county.”
“It always does,” Corrine agreed, typing away.
Boot looked across the street and saw the storefront cathedral. What was the real story on that place? He’d met “Bishop” Nathaniel, the man who lived there. He came by in full Russian Orthodox Church robes and tried to tell him he could bless the office, no fees required. Boot thanked him and sent the man on his way. The “cathedral” resembled any one of the other storefront churches in the neighborhood. At least it didn’t have the church name on a 7-Up sign like the one on the other side of the street.