The below short story originally appeared in American Crime Magazine.
It’s Only a Job
By Paul Davis
I received a call at about eight that night from a detective I knew.
Nick Grosso worked out of South Detectives and he often fed me inside information, tips, and gossip for my crime column in the local paper.
I didn’t pay him anything and he never asked for anything. He certainly didn’t ask me to write about him favorably, as he liked being a low-key cop. He said he liked talking to me because he considered me to be fair to cops. I also think he got a kick out of seeing something he told me in the newspaper.
I met Grosso at a coffee shop in South Philadelphia later that evening. He was standing outside the coffee shop with two coffees and he handed me one. We stood next to his car in the parking lot.
“This guy won’t talk to you or anybody in the press, but it’s a good story that I think you’ll like,” Grosso told me. "He's a Navy vet and served on the aircraft carrier USS Kitty Hawk like you."
I nodded, sipped my hot coffee and listened.
If Donald Clarke had been an actor, he would have been type casted as a villain’s henchman or a cold professional killer, or perhaps a Western outlaw. He was of average height, and he had a lean face and a lean body. His face was leathery from the sun, as he liked being outdoors and would often go for long walks during the afternoon with his dog, a German Shepard that he named Duke.
When he had been in the Navy some years back, a local wit on his ship remarked that he looked like a farmer who just stepped off a tractor after plowing the lower forty.
“A mean pissed off farmer,” another wit added.
Clarke just grinned. Despite his dark hard looks, he was even-tempered, and he possessed a sly sense of humor. Most everyone liked him once they got to know him.
Clarke was a taciturn and unassuming man, but he was also a proud man. He worked as a night watchman at a warehouse along the Delaware River not far from the old naval shipyard in South Philadelphia. The job didn’t pay much, but he had health benefits and a pension.
Basically, a shy man, he liked working alone at night and he liked that he could read his history books in between his scheduled security rounds within the warehouse. He also liked that he made it home in the morning in time to see his wife and son before they left the house for work and for school.
His wife Betty, a chubby and cheerful woman, was much more social than her husband. She worked in a store and she liked dealing with her customers. They had a 14-year-old son named Ronald who attended Catholic school. The Clarke family lived happily in a nice, modest South Philly row home.
On his day off on Saturday, Clarke liked to go to a local bar, where he had two beers. Never anymore and never anything harder. One Saturday afternoon John Waverly sat on a stool at the other end of the bar from Clarke. Waverly was known as “Jackie the Weasel,” as he had a pinched and pointed face like a weasel, and he had a “weaselly” character to match. He stood up and approached Clarke.
“Hey, Don. I heard you’re the night man at a warehouse, is that right?” Waverly asked.
“They got anything in there?”
“What do you mean?”
You know, like to steal. Anything good in that warehouse?”
“Get away from me,” Clarke said in a low voice, almost a growl.
Rocco, the bar’s owner and bartender heard the conversation and leaned over the bar between the two men and told Waverly to leave Clarke alone.
“He likes to drink in peace,” the big bartender said.
Waverly slinked away from Clarke and the bartender. Although he liked to put on that he was a tough guy, a crook that ran with a tough burglary crew, he was in fact cowardly.
Later that evening, he sat in another bar with his crew and told the crew leader, Denny Ryan, that he had lined up a perfect score. Ryan, a genuine tough and violent criminal, didn’t think much of Waverly and only half-listened as his least-valued crew member prattle on.
“I know this guy, a night watchman at a warehouse with all sorts of electronics,’ Waverly explained. “We won’t have to disable the alarms or even break in. This guy will turn off the alarms and open the door for us. Hell, he’ll even give us the keys to a truck we can use to haul the shit away.”
“How much he want?” Ryan asked.
“Well, he didn’t agree to help yet. I thought you could persuade him to be helpful.”
Ryan looked over at Waverly and told him to drive him to the warehouse to check it out.
A week later Clarke had completed his security rounds and sat at his desk. He poured coffee from his thermos into a cup and opened his book on Ancient Rome. The phone rang and Clarke looked at the clock. 2 AM. He picked up the phone.
“Is this Don Clarke?” asked a high-pitched voice on the other line.
"Yeah, who is this?”
Another voice, deeper, slower, and more assured, now spoke.
“Clarke, say hello to your wife.”
“Don, I’m with Ronald they have guns on us please do as they say,” his wife blurted out.
“Listen to you wife, Clarke.” the man said.
Clarke willed himself to remain calm, although he was frightened for his family.
“What do you want?”
“We want to come visit you. We want you to turn off the alarm system. We want you to open the door for us. We want you to give us a key to one of the trucks there. We want you to sit quietly while we load up a truck. Do all this and you and your family won’t be harmed.
“But know this, we’re leaving a friend here with your wife and son. He’s a three-time loser who says he won’t never go back to prison. If you call the cops and they show up here, he’ll kill your wife and son and then kill himself. You understand?”
“Yeah, I do.”
“Good. We will be there in about a half hour. Be waiting by the door.”
Clarke was an armed guard. He took off his holster and placed the 9mm Glock and holster behind a cabinet, as he didn’t want the criminals to take the gun and use it on anyone.
He planned to cooperate with the crooks to save his family, but he would then quit, as he felt he was letting down the owner of the warehouse. He knew that some thought he was only a guard, but he took his responsibility seriously. This was his job.
A half-hour later, a car pulled into the lot and three men got out. One was Waverly, who Clarke knew as “Jackie the Weasel.” He didn’t know the other two men.
The driver, whose name was Bill Rourke, was a tall burly man with dark curly hair. The other man, another tall one, had light hair and a muscular build. This was Harry Ryan, the leader of the burglary crew. The three men ushered Clarke back into the warehouse.
“You look like a tough guy. Are you a tough guy?” Ryan asked Clarke.
“You got a look about you. Are you a retired cop?”
“Where you in the Army?”
“What, like a SEAL or something?"
“No. A Boatswain's Mate.”
“What the fuck is that?”
“A deck guy. Line handling, anchor detail, painting, and stuff like that. I was on an aircraft carrier.”
“Sounds like a shitty job.”
“Sometimes. Sometimes not. It's called pride in service. I doubt you would understand."
Right, I don’t, and I don’t give a fuck. Are you going to be a hero and get outta hand?”
“Good. Remember, it’s only a job. It’s not your personal belongings and I’m sure the owner is insured. Do as you’re told, and you could be back with your family.”
“Give me a set of keys for a truck.”
Clarke gave him a set of keys.
“Sit down. Jackie, stay with him,” Ryan said.
Ryan and Rourke grabbed a forklift and drove off towards the dock.
“If you say anything about me, I’ll come back and kill you and your family, believe me,” Waverly said.
Clarke didn’t, but he believed the others would.
Waverly was jumpy. He paced. He sweated. Clarke waited for his moment.
Waverly heard a noise and looked back at the dock. Clarke jumped up and grabbed him. Clarke held Waverly around the neck in an Indian Stranglehold and squeezed, cutting off Waverly’s voice and his breath. Waverly passed out in Clarke’s arms.
Using the knots he learned as a Boatswain's Mate in the Navy, Clarke hog-tied Waverly and placed a rag in his mouth. Clarke took Waverly’s 38. Colt revolver and walked slowly and softly towards the dock, where Ryan and Rourke loading boxes into a truck.
Clarke walked up to them; Waverly’s gun pointed at them.
“Hold it,” Clarke said.
“What the fuck?” Ryan said.
Rourke pulled his gun from his waistband and Clarke shot him center mass, just as he had been taught so many years ago in the Navy. As Rourke fell, Ryan reached for his gun and Clarke shot him center mass as well. Ryan slipped to the ground next to Rourke.
Clarke walked over towards the two prone men.
Rourke looked like he was dead, but Ryan had a strained look on his face as he held his hands over his chest wound where blood was oozing out. He looked up at Clarke.
“Your wife and kid are dead, you hear me. Had to be a hero? It’s only a job, for fuck's sake."
“Not to me. But a bum like you wouldn’t understand.”
After Ryan expired along side Rourke, He left Waverly tied up and walked out of the warehouse towards Rourke's car. He thought of calling the police, but he was afraid that Ryan’s threat was true, so he thought he would handle this on his own.
In Rourke's car, Clarke stopped in front of his row home and beeped the horn. The man inside peaked out of the curtain at the car in the street. It was too dark to see who was inside the car, but he recognized Rourke's car.
Clarke beeped the horn again repeatedly, waking most of his neighbors.
The man in his house, a short, thin man, came rushing out of the house and opened the passenger’s side door and started to get in.
“I tied them up…” the man said as Clarke shot him in the head.
“Waverly died from suffocation, the dumb fuck, before we got there. Clarke killed all four of those idiots,” Grosso told me in the parking lot. “When push came to shove, he sure was cool under pressure."
"Navy training," I said.
©Copyright 2021 by Paul Davis.