One of the reasons I’m posting a lot of work on this blog is that it gives me freedom to revisit and revise anything I post. While I do put in an honest effort to get good work posted here, I also hold myself to a time limit. I aim not to let any work posted here take me longer than two days. I know full well that this means some works won’t be as good as others, but it also means I’m constantly writing and sharing.
Anyway, I went back to my earlier flash “Snow Day”. A good friend on Facebook had asked me “What happens next?” I took it pretty bad. Good flash fiction (or any other form submitted as a complete story) shouldn’t prompt that question! I thought of weaseling out and saying “Oh, I meant it to be part of a series all along!” – and that’s how I got started on today’s piece. Instead of revising that work for a better ending, I thought of looking at it from the burglar’s point of view, and found out he was caught off-guard by both the sudden snow and the presence of two young boys in the house.
I’ll post today’s piece as is, in keeping with my two-day limit (which this has violated by quite a bit). One known issue is the radio at the start of Snow Day that magically turns itself off – today’s piece runs with it being off when the robber comes in. I’ll likely come back to both stories again, but for now:
The Old Geezer’s Word
Damn, I’ve made a mess of this job. Come on, where’d you put the damn necklace?
I look to the window. The snow keeps coming, thickening the blanket over my only way out. I turn pack to the pile of jewelry, running my gloved fingers through the pile of necklaces and rings I’ve removed from small boxes. Gold, a few diamonds, maybe some silver too. A few hundred dollars, a thousand if I’m lucky. The real prize is still missing. Dammit Ellie, you didn’t let Willie take it with him, did you?
One more drawer. I yank it, dump it on the floor. More clothes – stockings and panties, mostly. A younger me might be excited by the sight of her underwear. Ellie had made it clear, twice, that my love for her was unwanted. Two stabs through the heart. Wounds that had only just healed and hardened. I could even get used to the idea of never seeing her again.
Nothing else in this drawer; just clothes. Inspiration hits, and I check the hallow bureau now stripped of its drawers. I check my gloves again before feeling around the inside. Dammit. No clever hiding place here, just the thumps of my fingers on cheap fibreboard.
I dash over to the wardrobe, throw open its white doors. I smile as carefully wrapped presents greet my eyes. I toss the boxes on the bed, taking care not to throw too hard. Donnie and Stevie hardly deserve to have their Christmas ruined by the likes of me. A stink of mothballs nearly gags me once I’m past the presents. There, sitting on the hardwood floor under dresses carefully arranged on their hangers, is a box. I know its size, its black velvet. I can see Ellie’s face as Willie opens it for her, right at midnight of New Year’s.
That happy face had haunted me through a full bottle of Jack’s Finest, generously provided by Old Ralph at the bar in the long hours before dawn. He had listened to my bawling the whole night, had promised to help again if I needed it. I’d have taken him up, rather than get into this mess, but I just couldn’t ask more of the poor geezer.
Back in the present, I open the box. Jackpot.
What’s that? Dear fuck no – is someone else here? I grab madly at whatever silver and gold trinkets I can scoop from the pile, and stuff it all in the overcoat’s large pockets. The real treasure stays in my other hand, embedded into the palm of my closed glove.
As I step quickly down the hall, two small forms dart across the kitchen ahead. They’re supposed to be with you, Willie, you bastard! The door’s shuttering slam punctuates my anger. I tear it open, stepping back on to the porch. Donnie’s leading Stevie over the growing pile of snow, away from me around the house. The loud groan of a bus engine echoes from across the crescent.
Not going back that way. I take to the back yard, scrambling as fast as I can manage over the snow. One wrong step, and I’m in ankle deep, cursing as slush fills the crack between wool sock and boot. I pull onward, getting myself to the fence between Ellie’s place and Old Ralph’s. I follow the fence, more careful with steps. I’m at the back corner, ready to scramble up, when Ralph’s voice cuts across the yard.
“Stop it there!”
I open my palm, and the sharp weight drops silently over the lip of the fence. I continue to climb, knowing full well that the man behind can easily reach me before I can throw myself over.
I’ve got one leg swung over the fence, just as the old man’s rough hand finds my other ankle. I look down into Old Ralph’s weathered face. He’s stoic as he glances behind him, looking for the small crowd that followed him. They are just coming around now – they’ll be here a few more beats of my overworked heart.
An icy glare passes between us. His sage brown eyes blink once. Then, with a sudden thrust from his arm, I’m tumbling over the fence. Air gasps out of me as my back hits an icy patch on the other side. Without even realizing it, I clasp my hand out at a shiny object, clutching it to my chest as I pull myself up. Somehow, through maddening pain, I can shuffle off the ice.
“He got away, the sonofabitch!”
Old Ralph’s curse echoes from over the fence as I scramble away through the small, snow-blanketed forest surrounding the suburb.
After a second’s hesitation, I let him in. Don’t know how he’s tracked me here, but I’m not surprised. With the two of us taking up its space, the tiny motel room grows even smaller.
“Cops won’t bother you,” Old Ralph said as he sat on the corner of the stripped bed, “Checked in with some old friends in the precinct. Yer wanted for questioning, but they’re off looking the wrong way thanks to a tip I may have dropped.”
I shake my head. “Why?”
“You remember the whiskey? My promise?”
He leaves the question hanging in the cold air between us, as he takes me in with a hard stare. Slowly, I nod.
“Consider it paid. My word is my word, dammit. You could have asked for money, I suppose, but we both know I can’t give as much as that necklace will fetch.”
I shake my head in wonder. “God. Still can’t believe the kids were there when I took it – they’re okay, right?”
“You’d be in the slammer now if they were anything but.” His stare remains, unmoving. “You couldn’t have known – I already figured that part out. Don’t worry about the damage or the loss, either. Insurance will cover that just fine – Ellie’s seen to that, and I might have pulled a few strings with old contacts myself.”
“I … well, thank you, I guess.”
“You leave. Never let me or anyone of us see you. That clear enough, son?”
I lift the corners of my mouth against the weight of guilt.
“Clear enough, old man.”