Prologue – The Heist
October, 1993, San Bernardino, CA
At 7:45 pm, Harold Payne was alone, agitated and pacing. He was aimlessly wandering throughout the nondescript warehouse production offices that were furnished with twenty-year-old battered metal desks and decorated with days-old coffee cups, cluttered files and overflowing ashtrays. Pride and caring left these premises a long time ago.
Impatient by nature, Payne’s anger was boiling over as he waited for the trucks due nearly two hours ago. Venting and cursing, he threw one of the half-filled coffee cups at the grimy schedule board on the back wall.
Every minute was critical. If they didn’t arrive soon, the massive cargo consignment would never get loaded in time. He was sweating profusely at the thought this delay might ripple through his entire plan and cause him to miss his meticulously planned getaway.
But then, hearing the hiss of the air brakes, he rushed to the loading dock and raised the two overhead doors. The first driver casually walked back from his cab and climbed onto the platform. In a spray of spittle, Payne shouted his frustration, screaming at him. “What the fuck happened to you? You should’ve been here two hours ago.”
“What can I tell ya? Traffic was bad. You shoulda seen it. The rain musta caused six different accidents. I’m talkin’ serious pileups.”
The casual response only angered him further. “Don’t fucking bullshit me. If you thought there were a couple of whores waiting for you, you would have been here early. So, where’s the fucking pelican cases?”
“I got ’em in the cab. I’ll bring them right out.”
The driver of the second truck strolled up to the platform. “You ready for us to begin with the loading?” His easy-going drawl only poured gasoline on the fire.
Payne was now approaching heart-attack territory. “I was fucking ready two hours ago. I even rented a second forklift so you could load two trucks at a time.” He then told the drivers to take every pallet in the warehouse which he had estimated to be four trailer loads.
Seeing the two pelican cases dropped on the platform calmed Payne down. While the truckers loaded the pallets, he toted the two heavy-duty plastic packing boxes into the office.
Grinning, he unlocked them, checked the contents and counted the bundles of large denomination bills. When he finished at $3 million, he sat back and relaxed. His plan was working just as he had envisioned it. Besides these two cases of cash, he had already skimmed another $2 million from the company. This would set him up for life.
Harold Payne was a forty-year-old former attorney, who had given up his mediocre law practice to salvage his deceased client’s business. His well-worn black tailored suit and frayed, monogrammed dress shirt harkened back to a time when he was a hugely successful Los Angeles power lawyer, and weighed at least a dozen pounds less than his ample 190 pounds.
Despite his height at five foot, five, he was an imposing man with greying temples contrasting his black hair and full beard. Ebony-rimmed glasses framed his dark glowering eyes, sunken under a black bushy eyebrow stretching clear across his forehead. The intensity of his impenetrable stare caused discomfort in anyone he addressed.
The only time Payne ever smiled was when he was telling one of his tasteless, chauvinistic jokes. His idea of humor was feminine-degrading, off-color sexual metaphors. This was in sharp conflict with his fastidious grooming. However, his custom-tailored apparel had seen better days when his income was hundreds of thousands of dollars higher.
Less than an hour later, The Brazilian showed up. He was of medium height and wiry, with athletic moves both efficient and intimidating. His swarthy color, facial expression and body language exuded a harsh sense of impending terror, making anyone in his presence nervous and uncomfortable. Almost no one knew his real name, which was Diego Santos. His underworld contacts referred to him simply as The Brazilian.
When he strode into the office, he nodded to Payne, saw the two cases, and walked over to test their weight. He smiled and said with his slight accent, “Okay, if it’s all here, then let’s go.”
Payne replied, “The money is all there, but we can’t leave yet. They haven’t finished loading.”
“Fuck them. We’ve got the money, so who cares if they finish or not.” He picked up the cases and hustled out the front door. Payne grabbed his briefcase and a small carry-on bag and followed him out of the building.
They climbed in The Brazilian’s rental car and drove to a small airport where they boarded a chartered Lear jet with a flight plan to San Juan, Puerto Rico. Once they were in flight, Diego handed Payne a packet of documents with a new identity and a new cell phone. The passport photo showed Payne without the beard and glasses.
With a sinister smile, Diego addressed Payne, “Adios, Harold Payne. We mourn your passing. It is a pleasure to meet you, Gerard Morbus.
“Remember Gerard, you must never answer to Harold Payne again. It’s important to work on that. Get used to being called Gerard Morbus. Your life will depend on it.”
The Brazilian then explained the next steps of the journey. “We will land at a private terminal at the airport. Leave everything on board, except your carry-on.”
“What about the money?”
“A car will take you to the main terminal and bring you back to the plane. When you get there, go directly to the men’s room, shave off the beard, change your clothes, and put on this hat. Come back out the same terminal door. The car will wait to take you back to the plane,” he ordered.
“What about my glasses?”
“Toss the glasses and put in your contacts. Once you’re back on board, I will leave, and the plane will take you to your destination. Upon arrival, my sister, Salete Pereira will be there to meet you and bring you to your new apartment.
“She has the name of the bank where she deposited your other funds under your new name. You are to give her the pelican cases, and she will process the cash into your new account.” He spoke crisply without interruption.
“Salete will also help you get acclimated to your new surroundings. When I next visit that wonderful city of my birth, we will meet for a drink.”
“Diego, assuming everything goes as planned, when you come to visit, I will have a $50,000 bonus for you,” offered Gerard.
“That is most kind of you, sir.”
“I am not being kind. I am truly impressed with the professional way you have managed this entire operation. And I’m looking forward to my new life in an exotic part of the world.”
And while the prospects sounded exciting, would Gerard be up for the unknown challenges ahead?