The Thick Man- Chapter Two

The Baker Street Grill looks a lot like most other chain restaurants these days, with pop culture memorabilia strewn across the walls, a bar with mounted TV’s showing various sports games, and pop-music over the loudspeaker. Unlike most other chain restaurants, the food there is actually good. Unfortunately the booths lining the walls are of the table-is-mounted-and-nothing-moves variety, so of course they’re not big enough for someone of my size to wedge into. As a result I am relegated to the not-as-comfortable chairs at the various tables that they have positioned in the middle of each section of the restaurant.
That’s the kind of thing that I meant when I told Nora about having to learn to look at all the angles in order to survive. For most people going to a restaurant is no big deal. In fact, it’s often seen as a treat- a break from having to cook and a relaxing good time with friends and family. For someone like me, who clocks in at over five hundred pounds, it can be a stressful and potentially humiliating experience.
How much space is there in the restaurant? Will I have enough room to get in and out of my seat without bumping people? What about the tables? Can I move them? Are they bolted to the floor? Will I be able to fit if they are? What about the chairs? Will they be comfortable or will it be a thirty to forty-five minute torture session where instead of enjoying my food and the company of my friend I’ll be counting down the minutes to when I can get the hell out of there?
These are the kinds of questions I have to consider every time I go someplace. It’s also the reason that I tend to stick to the same, familiar places where I know what to expect and can plan accordingly. Despite what Nora said, I’m not a human deductive computer the way that Holmes is. I just apply how I have to live my life every day to other situations and sometimes I come up with a perspective that others might not think about.
It was a nice October evening outside so I requested a patio table. The chairs outside are the metal kind with arms, so once the hostess walked away I slipped back into the bar and swiped one of the wooden ones without them. Being my size can be a real pain in the ass sometimes, and in this case I mean that literally.
A too-perky waitress came by and asked what I’d like to drink. I ordered a sweet-tea and a “Mount Frysuvious” appetizer- loaded steak fries made with actual melted cheddar cheese and bacon as opposed to that liquid imitation junk like you’d get on gas station nachos. Fat guy nirvana. Nora had said she was paying and cheese fries are the price of being late. I’d gotten through my first glass of tea and the appetizer had just arrived by the time that Nora finally graced me with her presence.
She held up a hand to forestall comment. “Don’t. I’ve had a hell of a day already.”
Unfortunately, Perky picked that time to saddle up next to our table and the look that she got from Nora caused her smile to go slack. It was like watching a tire go flat. If the police thing didn’t work out, it was nice to know that Nora could find work as a Dementor for Azkaban.
“Beer. Keep ‘em coming.”
Perky nodded and skedaddled without comment.
Smart girl.
While Nora ravenously tore into the appetizer I ventured, “You want to tell me what happened?”
She rolled her eyes as she used her cloth napkin to wipe at some tangy ranch sauce that had dripped on her chin. “What didn’t? Today was like an asshole parade. My first of the day was a drunk stop with a guy so hammered that he fell when he tried to get out of the car. This was after he sideswiped about fifteen parked cars along Lindell Boulevard. Then the jackass puked on my shoes as we were loading him into the patrol car.”
Perky returned, setting a glass of beer down in front of Nora like a pagan making an offering to an angry god, and then murmured something about giving us a few minutes before hastily backing away. Nora immediately took a large pull of the beer and it was two-thirds of the way gone by the time she smacked it back down on the table. She swiped at the foam on her mouth with the back of a hand.
“Next up, we have a domestic disturbance call that we got routed to because we were the only unit in the area and it sounded like things were getting violent quickly. We roll up and I have to duck a beer bottle that got tossed at my head as soon as I started to get out of the car. Dan got one too when he hollered at them about throwing stuff at police officers. Apparently the one thing that this beautiful couple has in common is that they aren’t fans of law enforcement, because believe me that is the only damn thing that they didn’t fight about the entire time that we were stuck with their redneck asses. Long story short, both Glinda and, I shit you not, Billy Bob, ended up cuffed on the ground after they had to be tased repeatedly. They were both shouting about police brutality by the time the second unit arrived to take them away, so there’s another little fun thing I have to look forward to when I go in tomorrow.”
Perky approached with a second beer for Nora and ventured to ask about ordering. I felt sorry for the poor girl. Nora had apparently taken the fight out of her and she was now a broken spirit. I tried to up my sweetness factor to help make up for Nora’s abrasive attitude and she smiled at me in thanks as I ordered a steak sandwich the size of a Buick. Nora ordered the same and Perky made a quick tactical retreat.
Nora polished off the first beer and took a slug of the fresh one before continuing. “This brings us to why I’m so damn late. Dan and I were just about off-shift when a call comes in for backup. Apparently a perp held up a Quick Stop and a car chase was happening. We were nearby so we headed that direction to try and cut him off. Five minutes, and almost peeing myself three times, later the perp abandons his rust-covered shitbox on North 20th and hoofs it on foot through Desoto Park. Dan was driving, and we were the closest unit by then, so I jump out after this guy. Stupid YouTube and this trending parkour shit! It was like I was chasing a damn monkey hopped up on speed! Jenkins was in the patrol car next on the scene and ran after us. Poor guy broke a leg trying to jump after the little bastard.”
I winced. Leroy may not be the sharpest tack in the box but he was good people. “How’d you catch the guy?”
Nora gave me a wicked smile from behind her beer mug. “That, my friend, is the one redeeming thing about my day.”
She munched on a fry, letting me stew a little, a Cheshire smile on her face the entire time. She always does that. I played along and smiled with her. It’d make her feel better. Finally she swallowed and leaned forward conspiratorially. “So he’s doing his ninja monkey shit, and by this time he’s got at least four other uniforms on his butt and I’m getting winded. I’m already pissed off because of the shitty day I’ve been having on top of watching Jenkins get hurt and not knowing how bad, so I’m long past ready for this whole thing to be over with so I can get here to you and stuff myself full of meat and beer.”
I nodded encouragingly and she took another swig of beer to emphasize her point before continuing. “So I pull out my nightstick, which has been slapping me in the leg and driving me nuts this whole time anyway, and when I think I’ve got a bead on him, I chuck it at his legs.”
She cackled maniacally as she slouched back in her chair. This garnered the attention of the other patio patrons around us. Nora either didn’t notice or didn’t care. “It was beautiful, Nick! The shot was damn near perfect! He was getting ready to do another bunny hop over a rail when the nightstick takes him right in the back of his knees. He ends up slamming into the rail stomach-first. The wind gets knocked out of him just in time for five very pissed off officers to grab him and throw him to the ground. We didn’t beat on him or anything, but let’s just say he’s going to be damn sore for a while given the ‘forceful arrest’ he received.”
I laughed with her and offered up my tea glass. “To the STLPD’s finest!”
“Damn straight!” She clinked her beer against my glass and we both drank deep while those patrons around us who overheard the tale gave out a cheer. I love this place.
After a few moments she sobered and smiled at me. “Thanks, Nick.”
I arched an eyebrow over the rim of my glass. “For what, the fries? You’re paying.”
She smiled as she leaned forward and put a hand on mine. My heart thudded in my chest. “For listening to me rant. You always do, and I know that I can be a real pain sometimes. You’ve been a good friend these past few years, Nick. Probably the best that I’ve ever had.”
I forced myself to smirk and squeezed her hand back. Welcome to the Friend Zone, population: me. “Well don’t go getting all mushy on me or anything.”
She laughed just in time for the waitress to bring us our food. “I’ve been looking forward to this all day! Thank you!”
Seeing that her rough customer was in a better mood our waitress flipped the switch back to perky and replied, “You’re very welcome!”
She shuffled off for another table with a spring back in her step, and all was right with the world once more. We tore into our sandwiches with relish and ate in silence for a few minutes. The food. Was. Amazing. Of course, then Nora had to go and ruin it by bringing up business. “So, what’s our game plan?”
“Stuff ourselves with steak and cheese fries and then pass out fat and happy?”
She chuckled, “Besides that. You know, with the case?”
I sighed and reluctantly put down my sandwich. “Ruiner.”
I wiped at my mouth with a napkin, trying to catch a dribble of au jus that was making a run for the boarder down my chin. “Okay, so I was thinking about it and I may have something that the robbery boys might have missed. The ‘Ghost’ has been hitting about one major heist a month right? Big time jewelry stores.”
She nodded.
“Other than the fact that they’re big stores, there’s nothing else that really connects them. They’re not owned by the same people. There’s no specific type of merchandise being targeted. It’s just a well-planned, well timed operation where the Ghost gets in and takes as much as they can within a few minute window.” She was still nodding along with my points as she munched on her sandwich. “I started thinking that maybe we need to look at the bigger picture for something in common. So, on a hunch, I started looking around for suspicious activity near those stores in the month leading up to each job. My thought process was that to do these major robberies with such skill and precision, he’d-“
She gestured at me with a fry. “Or she. We don’t know that the perp is a guy.”
I shrugged. “Or she, had to have cased each one for a while.”
She twirled the fry in her fingers as she thought. “Makes sense they’d have to case the place, but why in the world would anyone as careful as the Ghost do something before the job that might tip off the cops? That’s just stupid.”
I held up two fingers. “Two reasons. First, exactly because it’d be stupid and no one would think to look for it; and second, because I don’t think that they can help it. Take a look at this.”
I fished out a folder from the backpack I had next to the table and handed it to her. As she started to skim I gave her the highlights. “Each month, prior to the robberies, stores in the immediate area have all reported minor thefts. Shop lifting cases, nothing too expensive or big, all within a two block radius or so.”
She grinned. “Nothing that would show up on vice’s radar.”
I winked at her. “Exactly. It’s happened every month. I think the guy, or girl,“ I quickly amended, “may be a clepto, and he or she feeds that need with minor stuff as they case the big scores.”
The grin on Nora’s face grew and for the first time that night I saw a bit of a sparkle to her eyes. I loved it. “Nick, you’re a freaking genius! It’s getting close to the end of the month, so now all we have to do is look for an area where a bunch of minor thefts have all taken place and see what’s nearby that’s big enough that the Ghost might want to hit!”
I raised my glass before taking another sip. “That’s my theory anyway. Seems like a solid enough place to start.”
She stared at me, a sly grin on her face. I just let her stare as I continued eating my sandwich. After a few minutes she gave up and rolled her eyes. “So? Where are we headed?”
I blinked. “What, tonight? After the day you just had?”
She tossed a fry at me, which rebounded off of my forehead and landed on my plate with a light thud. “I know you’ve already got at least one likely place narrowed down, so let’s hear it.”
I sighed dramatically as I picked up her thrown fry and popped it into my mouth. “Back of the file.”
She excitedly flipped to the back of the file to the Google Maps page I printed out with little red X’s marked around the vicinity where minor thefts had taken place over the last few weeks. I circled a jewelry store that was located roughly in the middle of the area. She glanced at it and then scoffed. “You’re joking, right?”
I shrugged and continued to munch.
She jabbed at the map. “But this is literally just up the street from the police department. Surely The Ghost isn’t that stupid.”
I shrugged again. “Why not? It’s not like the cops have really given them much to worry about in the last few months. They’re escalating. Being that close to the department will probably give them an extra thrill.”
She snorted and waved down Perky the Waitress. “We’re going to need to-go boxes and our check.”
My sandwich was half way to my mouth when I balked as Perky dutifully set out on her quest. “What, right now?”
Nora looked like an anxious pre-teen about to go to a Justin Bieber concert. She gestured at the time on her iPhone. “Of course, now! It’s getting late and we’re headed towards the end of the month. We might get lucky and they’ll hit it tonight!”
I grimaced as Perky dropped off our boxes and ticket. “I seriously doubt it. Besides, I’m hungry!”
Nora snatched the sandwich out of my hand and dumped it along with my remaining fries into the box. “You can eat in the car. Cop stakeout tradition.”
“But I’m not a cop!” The protest was mostly just for appearances. I knew I wouldn’t win, and I have to admit that I was excited by the prospect too.
Nora tossed a wad of cash onto the table and scooped up her own to-go box. “Then this’ll be quite a treat for you! C’mon, we’ll take your truck. You’ll be more comfortable that way.”
By the time I grabbed my box, bag, and cane she was already headed for the door. I gave Perky a weak smile and a wave. “Have a good night.”
She followed Nora with her eyes before returning the gesture. “Good luck, sweetie. Looks like you’ll need it.”