Friday, May 5
When Jerome dropped him off at the corner, Jackson Ray “Jack” Ritter
flicked his cigarette into the flowing gutter, took a deep breath to
steady his nerves, and started walking west on Sheridan.
It was a nice spring evening for a stroll, even in downtown Oklahoma
City, where walks at dusk used to be risky at best, until the citizens
had voted for a new sales tax to slick things up a bit. Now there was a
brand new baseball park just three blocks behind him in Bricktown, said
to be one of the very best in the minor leagues. There were new upscale
restaurants and night spots as well, in the former deserted factory
district, reborn as an entertainment destination.
To Ritter’s right, directly across the street, tiers of scaffolding
were the visible evidence of major renovations underway on the Myriad
Convention Center, the town’s largest event center, where most of the
major touring rock and country concerts were held.
Things had changed a bit since Ritter had left.
The brief thunderstorm just ended had cleansed the air of exhaust fumes,
left the heady scent of fresh rain, made the pavement on Sheridan shine
in rippled colors from the late sunset, the car head beams, neon signs
and tall vapor streetlights.
He checked out the cars parallel-parked at the curb as he strode along,
at the same time watching the people he passed on the sidewalk. He moved
at a casual pace, hands in his pockets. Nobody paid much attention to
him: tall, clean-cut, blond-haired white guy in a light-brown silk sport
coat, white button-down shirt, no tie, faded Levis and green-on-white
Reebok track shoes. He looked yuppie, law-abiding, harmless, and a
decade younger than his actual thirty-four years – the way he wanted
to look at the moment.
He had a flat strip of flexible alloy up his right sleeve, 20 inches
long, three-quarters of an inch wide, half a millimeter thick, notched
on one end – a tool commonly known among car thieves and cops as a
Thunderheads billowed high above the tall buildings as he moved west,
the formation colored deep purple and limned with gold by the sun that
had already slipped below the horizon. It was about 8:30 on a Friday
night, and there was an unusually large number of cars parked along the
downtown street, for this time of the evening – unless, of course,
there was a bigtime rock or country concert going on in the Myriad.
Or, a regional church conference, complete with Christian-rock concert,
which was in progress in the Myriad right now.
Ritter glanced across the street at the sprawling concrete and glass
structure that stretched for a block along the south side of Sheridan,
saw late-arriving people hurrying across the wide street toward the
Myriad entrances. Tonight’s flashy holy business was already underway
in there; muffled sounds of pipe organs and choir pushing against the
high rafters of the arena.
The Myriad’s underground garage was already full, the entrance guarded
by striped sawhorses and rent-a-cops. But nobody was tending the
overflow parking on the street, except for the occasional passing prowl
car. Ritter had read in the papers that a portion of the proceeds from
the event were going to the families of the dead and also the injured
survivors of the Murrah Building bombing, which had taken place just
three weeks ago, give or take a few days, turning the city, the state
and the nation on its ear. The worst terrorist attack on U.S. soil in
the history of the country – 168 dead, including 19 children. He
counted himself lucky that none of his relatives or friends were on the
list of dead. His loss had occurred three weeks earlier, completely
He came up alongside the automobile he wanted, the one he’d spotted a
few minutes ago when Jerome had driven him by here, scouting for jewels.
This jewel – a black 1986 Buick Grand National.
He stopped and fished around in his jacket pockets, like a man digging
for keys or cigarettes, came up with cigarettes and lighter, fired one
up while his darting eyes checked both sides of the street and both ends
of the block. He put Marlboros and Zippo away, stepped down off the curb
and walked around to the driver’s door of the Buick, took a drag on
the smoke with his left hand while dropping his right arm down his side,
letting the slimjim slip out of his sleeve and into his grip, hanging
down along his leg. He took another look around and slid the slim down
between the metal and the glass of the door, moved it back and forth
like a pendulum until it caught where he wanted it to catch. He pulled
up slightly, felt and heard the satisfying click, pulled the tool up and
out, reached down with his other hand, grasped the handle and opened the
He accomplished all of this in less time than it took most people to
unlock a car door the regular way, with a key.
Tossing the slimjim into the passenger seat, he got in and chunked the
door shut, closing out the sounds and smells of the street. Now he was
in the hushed confines of someone else’s private, mobile domain.
Another person’s ride.
An old feeling charged his senses. Stealing a car was like slipping into
someone else’s clothing, being enveloped in the scent, the body-mold,
the very essence of another human being; finding articles in the pockets
that provided clues about the owner. It was a mental and sensory
exercise he had always enjoyed when boosting automobiles – a means of
income he’d given up several years ago, when he’d left Oklahoma City
to establish a straight life elsewhere.
It was nice in here, smelled like leather and a young woman’s
expensive perfume. There was also the fainter smell of fancy
after-shave, but a musky female scent was most prevalent.
Ritter decided, as he slammed his fist down on the plastic casing of the
steering column, breaking it apart with a loud snap, that the Buick
belonged to a young Republican couple who believed in God, favored
American muscle cars, and occasionally – and just recently, in fact
– enjoyed having sex in their automobile.
He pulled a short flathead screwdriver from his side pocket, used it to
pop the chrome façade off the ignition lock, then pressed the tip of
the screwdriver against the exposed switch. The 3.8-litre SFI turbo
roared to life and hummed like a chorus of contented bears under the
gleaming, droplet-covered black hood.
Ritter smiled to himself around the cigarette that dangled from his
lips, pushed the button that made the driver’s window go down, looked
over his shoulder for a break in the traffic, pulled the console lever
into DRIVE and snaked the Buick out from the curb.
Yeah, a young, conservative married couple with strong Christian
beliefs. No psychic feat figuring that one, with the fish-outline decal
and the little red-white-and-blue flag sticker displayed side-by-side in
the lower center of the rear window, and the gawdawful Christian rap
music that started thumping bass-heavy through the surround speakers
when Ritter switched on the high-powered stereo that was crammed into
the dash. He found Christian rock music offensive enough – like when
Ronald Reagan once quoted from a Bruce Springsteen song, as if the old
squareheaded Gipper really had a clue what the Boss was really singing
about the good old U.S.A. But Jesus gangster rap? Talk about your
contradiction in terms.
He walk on the water
Give sight to the blind
Make a cripple man walk
With his powers devine
Yo, all the little homies know Jesus is the way
All the little homies know Je-Je-Jesus –
He hit the eject button as he angled into the left-turn lane at the
Robinson intersection and stopped for the light. He tossed the cassette
into the handy trash barrel on the median, no longer feeling bad about
stealing a young couple’s flashy ride.
When the green arrow flashed he turned south on Robinson, stabbing his
cigarette out in the ashtray, watching the rearview mirrors and side
streets until he was climbing the curving ramp up onto the eastbound
Interstate 40 overpass. He began to open it up then, racing away from
the wild purple-and-orange sunset and the sparse cluster of skyscrapers
silhouetted against it.
It had seemed so easy, but Ritter never allowed himself to be lulled
into a false sense of confidence. He held the brawny Buick at a safe 60
all the way out past Del City, Midwest City and Tinker Air Force Base
– all the metro satellites that surrounded Oklahoma City on its
southeast edges – and when he was beyond the gravitational pull of OKC
and its adjuncts – out in open country, rolling green pastureland
turning blue-black in the gathering night, he turned on the radio. Big
surprise, it was tuned to a conservative call-in talk station, and he
heard some half-wit (or half-drunk) air conditioner repairman defending
all the conspiracy idiots’ paranoid idea that the government had had
prior knowledge of the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building
in downtown OKC, and didn’t do anything to prevent it.
Ritter cranked the dial over to 100.5 FM, zipped up the volume in time
to hear Robert Plant’s wailing cover of “Your Ma Said You Cried in
You Sleep Last Night”. He drummed his fingers on the steering wheel,
nodded his head in time to the raunchy shuffle. He found, to his
surprise, that he was pumped. The apprehension he’d felt earlier,
riding around with Jerome, had melted away.
It had been a long time since he’d committed grand theft auto. He was
walking the wrong side of the line again and liking it more than he
It had also been years since he’d left Oklahoma behind, along with its
mixed bag of memories.
He reminded himself of his reason for returning, plus his immediate
destination, which was cause for utmost caution and concern.
He had an appointment – set up by Jerome, shifty kind of a goof he’d
met only a few hours ago at the airport – to deal with some dangerous
people. This stolen car was a required part of Ritter’s introduction
to these folks.
And from what he’d been told, if he didn’t make just the right first
impression on this bunch, they might just kill him.
Nice homecoming, he thought. Haven’t even had time to stop by the
cemetery and pay respects to his mom, with Mother’s Day only a couple
of days away.
He drove deeper into the night, as it grew darker.
Following Jerome’s directions, Ritter took a rural-road exit off the
interstate and ended up in the dark middle of nowhere with a
double-barreled shotgun pressed against the side of his face.
Excerpted from "Mr. Gone" by Gene Triplett. Copyright © 2017 by Gene Triplett. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Excerpts are provided solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.