Mr. Smead begged off watching Pedro Ramirez’s slow motion execution, claiming he had to make sure the warehouse was secure. That statement was true, as far as it went, but Smead’s caution was more because he feared what Garcia did to people who wronged him. And he was fearful because Ramirez might have unwittingly squirreled away evidence that would prove he was not cheating Garcia; and that Mr. Smead, Garcia’s supposedly loyal henchman, was actually the one skimming his boss’s contraband for a tidy profit.
Smead gingerly stepped off a wobbly catwalk and onto the deck of the makeshift loft that was Ramirez’s hideout. Each step Smead took was like stepping deeper into Ramirez’s unbalanced mind. Smead wouldn’t have long to search the hideout before he was missed. He’d have to be quick and methodical. The beam of his flashlight cut an arc through the darkness like a cutlass.
Judging from the bric-a-brac littering the loft, Smead began to suspect Ramirez really was insane. Mr. Smead knew Ramirez was genuinely grief-stricken and off kilter ever since Tommy the Cannon botched “whacking” Ramirez, and killed his family instead. What Garcia did to Tommy for making that mistake wasn’t pretty. But despite all of Ramirez’s foolish hoots and references to fairy tales, Smead had never before gotten the impression that Ramirez was really out-and-out crazy.
The loft was divided into four rough sections, which was reasonable enough. But each section seemed to have been laid out by a madman. Smead’s flashlight swung to the first section where he found a table decorated with wilted flowers and three dinner settings. The first chair was obviously for Ramirez, but there was a picture of Ramirez’s wife in front of the second chair, and a picture of his son in front of the third. The tableau looked like a shrine to the Saints.
The dinner plates for his wife and son were set with a lunatic’s menu of uneaten rice, black beans, chocolate mole sauce, and diced oysters in a thick, buttery dressing. The third plate—Ramirez’s—was wiped clean.
Smead was baffled by Ramirez’s dinner party. Why did he do it? Was it to honor the memory of his deceased family, or did he actually believe he had had dinner with them? While he pondered that question, he idly picked up a carafe of yellowish liquid and realized that instead of accompanying his meal with white wine, Ramirez had washed down his dinner with—olive oil. Recoiling with revulsion, Smead held down his gorge, hastily put the carafe back on the table, and then quickly turned away to explore the rest of the loft.
The next section seemed to be devoted to storage for stacks of flat, unassembled, folding cardboard boxes. Broad rolls of tan-colored tape lay on top. Smead had seen plenty of the assembled green boxes littering the warehouse. Perhaps they were used to repack more fragile shipping boxes, and this was where some of the spares were stored.
The third section appeared to be a dumping ground for Ramirez’s madness. The ripped-open remains of hundreds of cardboard shipping cartons were haphazardly piled into a chaotic mound nearly as tall as Mr. Smead himself. The contents of the cartons had been removed, but many of their hollowed-out, plastic carcasses were mixed into the debris. Mr. Smead surmised Ramirez was guilty of some kind of petty pilfering, if not the grand larceny Garcia suspected, which meant Smead could make a better case for incriminating Ramirez.
The lieutenant sifted through a few boxes in the pile, then a few others, and then finally many more. Again, Smead was baffled. All the cartons were for cheap computer games, radio-controlled racing cars, and other children’s toys. He wondered, who were they for? Why would anyone bother to steal such worthless junk? Smead’s brows furrowed in thought, and he couldn’t help thinking to himself, “Did Ramirez, in his delusion…steal all these toys for…his lost son?”
Time was running out and Mr. Smead quickly moved to the last section. This part of the loft contained a long workbench made of plywood sheets mounted on wooden sawhorses. Smead pulled the chain on a table lamp, and a yellow cone of light suddenly illuminated a rat’s nest of plastic bits and pieces, tangles of thin insulated wire, needle-nosed pliers and small screwdrivers, multifarious rolls of tape, tiny batteries in blister wrap, random electronic doodads, and other debris.
“Was Ramirez trying to fix the broken children’s toys?” Smead asked himself, “Or was he trying to combine them into a shrine for…a child?”
None of the mess on the workbench made sense, except for one peculiar item that Smead easily recognized: An empty box of lubricated condoms. “Humph,” Mr. Smead snorted contemptuously. “Maybe Ramirez screwed a fairy.”
Smead reveled in his little joke for a while because he was relieved. There was nothing here that could reveal his double-dealing to his boss. Still chuckling, he casually leaned on one of several empty, reinforced plastic crates. The sides of the crates were labeled in French, which he couldn’t read, but he idly noticed that the crates were thickly lined with shock-absorbing material. In addition, the crates looked military, which jogged a memory he had of having seen similar crates around the projects of combat engineers. Crates used to transport sensitive munitions that could destroy a tank, or a bunker, or a bridge, or a…yacht…or a…
Smead’s eyes suddenly widened in realization. Everything abruptly fell into place. He whirled and lunged toward the edge of the loft. But in the dark, in his haste, he stumbled over a stool and fell to the rough wooden floor. As he fell, his walkie-talkie flew from his hand and went skittering over the edge of the loft into the ebony void below. He could not hear it crash to the warehouse floor amidst all the shouts of derision and bloodlust surrounding Pedro Ramirez’s execution.
Smead tried to shout down to the people below, but the size of the warehouse distorted his voice, and his warning was lost in echoes. He was trying to warn his fellow marauders that even though Pedro Ramirez was grief-stricken, even though he was delusional, he had a plan as sober as the verdict of a judge.