It is a sacred ritual. The priestess removes the holy objects from their alcoves. Takes them into the temple, hides them from the stars. In the morning she returns them to their pillows for the worshippers and passers-by. Neat and tidy and holy at the Temple of Rolex.
I find her on a dating site. Hit on her. I’m half her age and so I get a date. Week One I’m her toy. Week Two I’m her pet. Week Three and she’s in love with me. And we’re going to run away together.
I have a confession. I’m a criminal. I steal things to pay for nursing school. L’Etats, c’est moi. Loan from the mafia – I’m vague on which, exactly – and I still owe on the last semester. Vig piling up. I need one big score to get free. Then she’ll quit her job at the watch store and we’ll go to Mexico and I’ll work at a hospital near a beach. We won’t have much but we’ll have each other. And sea, and sky.
She quiets. She thinks. She doesn’t quite bite her lip. “I work in a jewelry store,” she says. “They have insurance. And. Oh, this is crazy. This-“
I walk up the street. Act a little drunk. Stop and look at an alleyway, look up the street, look down, stumble up it like I’m going to take a leak. Think about it, shrug and actually pee.
It’s just past midnight. Still hot. Fucking June, my shirt sticks to me, I want a cold shower and an ice cream cone. I pull on a ski mask.
Back door. Four digit entry code. It’s a big building, dozens of people must have the same code. Easy peasy. Feel my way up the dark hallway until a big plate-glass window lets in enough dirty streetlight. Turn to face the inside door of the jewelry-store.
Five digit code. Maybe it’s not unique to her. Maybe. She didn’t think of it. I didn’t bring it up.
Cross the store in the red light of an exit sign. Go around little islands, empty display-cases, glass full of satin. Back of the store. Office door. Unlocked. Behind the desk. Down to one knee. She told me exactly where the alarm would be.
It’s blinking. A tiny blue light-bulb, silent in the night.
I’m going to jail.
*** *** ***
I could run. And go where? The streets are empty. I will get picked up. They’ll trace the pin I used. They’ll pick her up. She’ll crack in minutes. She’ll rat on me. They’ll jump at a chance to let this poor conned woman off the hook. That’s her leverage. I have none.
Unless I grab a fat fucking bag full of watches. Stash them somewhere. And agree to turn them over for a suspended sentence.
Or maybe I just can’t bear to get this close and walk away.
*** *** ***
One one thou sand. Two one thou sand.
I get to the safe. Left thirtyfour. Right seventeen. Five one thou sand. Six one thou sand. Pull it open. Curse and reach into my pocket and shake out a bag. Pull the top drawers, dump them, drop them. Fif teen thou sand. Six teen thou sand. Next safe. Next drawers. Little glints of metal in the dark. All metal are gray after midnight. Or maybe those are diamonds. Hurry. Hurry.
Three four thou sand. Three five thou sand. Done. Grab the bag, and run.
Out the door. Up the hallway. Four six thou sand. Four sev thou sand. Out of the building. Up the alley. Turn onto the street. Running. Flat out. Pull my mask off. Five five thou sand. Throw it at a dumpster. Don’t see where it lands. Keep running. Up the alley. One min ute two. One min ute three.
Blue lights. Flashing, up the alley. Just for a moment. Cop car driving up the street next door. No sirens. Doesn’t matter. A man in the street, running, holding a bag?
I look around for a place to hide it. A doorway? Base of a streetlight? Nothing. Nothing if the cops are looking, nothing the moment the sun rises. Anyone would grab it. Maybe I’d get away. Maybe. Not likely. But I’d lose my treasure. All of this for nothing.
In the doorway to a Starbucks. A pile of garbage. No. What? A homeless guy, sleeping. Two trashbags full of stuff. Guy on the ground wrapped in blankets. Snoring. Suddenly I can hear over my heartbeats and the world comes crashing down on me and the world is still and silent except for snoring.
I run to him. Loud footfalls. Don’t care. He doesn’t stop snoring. Not much light. Think it’s a guy. Would it matter? Doesn’t matter. It’s a guy.
Reach down. Grab a blanket from his pile. Pull it off like a magician revealing a bouquet. He gurgles. Head moves. I grab one of his trashbags and dart away. Twenty feet. Thirty. Then stop running. The hardest thing so far is to stop running. Stop, right there, in his sight, in the night.
There’s a trash-can. Fuck it. Try to put my sack in it. It won’t fit. I take off the lid, drop it into the wrappers and much, fit it back on. Pull it off again and rub dirt on my face. Muck on my face. My stomach heaves. Put the lid back on. Lay down right there. Wrap myself in his blanket, close my eyes and will the world away.
I don’t hear snoring.
I’ve lost my count. I try to start again but I’m no nervous. I’m not moving but my heart’s still pounding. My heart wants me moving. I try to act asleep. Too awake. Instead I think what it’s like to be drunk. High. Head spinning. I moan a little. Fine. Roll my head around. I’m drunk. I’m high. It’s a good act. It calms me down as well.
I hear footfalls. See flashlights, pools of light. Getting brighter. Two cops, coming out of the alley. Wait outside a few minutes. Talk in their radios, indistinct. Go into the building. Silence in the night.
I’m so scared my bladder wants to burst. I smile at myself, pull my dick out of my pants to pee. Pull back the blanket. A nice wet spot all around me. What the hell, I drop the blanket, soak the edge in urine. Keep my dick out. Why the hell not.
The cops are back outside.
They walk up the alley towards us. I kind of keep my eyes open but kind of don’t look at them. I don’t keep still. Every strand of my DNA wants to play dead but I force myself to move around a little, roll my head. I think the bum sits up. The other bum. The other bum. I am a bum. I am drunk and high and innocent.
The lights approach.
“What seems to be going on, officer?”
The lights are on him.
I moan, not quietly. Don’t want to sneak up on them.
The cops ask him his name. He gives it. They don’t care. Flashlight beams move over him. Can light have contempt? He talks. He’s scared. He’s crazy. He says a monster wind just blew over him and took one of his blankets away.
I cough. One of the lights comes over to me. Asks me some questions. I’m not responsive. I let out a bit more urine and the cop swears and kicks me.
His foot lands in my stomach. Misses my dick. Shouldn’t have left it out. Did he just kick me? Did a fucking cop just kick me? My eyes open. Then shut in the glare of a flashlight. Then his boot fills my vision and the world is spinning.
When you’re lying down and someone kicks you in the head it’s like someone has grabbed the world and twisted.
He stomps on my head. Again. He says some things but I can’t really hear them. My head bounces off the pavement and it feels like my skull is breaking. He kicks me in the stomach and I curl up and all the air leaves me. He says something. I don’t know. I don’t move.
I hear a noise like running water. Feel warmth on my body. He’s pissing on me.
He kind of kicks me. Halfhearted – more like stepping on me. Hear footsteps, walking away. Then I hear them beating the other man.
I lay there. Now I don’t move at all. Stay absolutely still. My mouth is full of blood. I don’t spit, I open my mouth and let it run out. Cough a little. Quietly.
I hear footsteps. Growing quieter.
The night is quiet. The world is empty.
I cough and spit out blood.
I force myself to lay there. I can’t count. I just lay there. Feel a little tired but don’t you dare go to sleep. I hope I don’t have a concussion. Doesn’t matter, doesn’t fucking matter, do not move, lie there, just don’t go to sleep.
I open my eyes. Lights flashing from the next road. Squad cars parked on the street? Investigating inside? I look over at the bum. He’s on the ground. Looks like he was when I found him. Not moving.
Fuck it. I get up, cough a lot and grab my sides because I think the fucking sadistics mother fuckers broke my fucking rib. Hold my insides like a gutshot soldier trying to keep them from falling out. Get the pain under control. Straighten up, slowly. Shuffle half sideways over to the other guy they beat up for fun.
He’s not moving. Talk to him. No response. Bend over, very carefully, hurts like hell, keep going. Check his pulse. Still beating. Still breathing. Doesn’t look too bad. No blood.
I pull back his blankets. I don’t see any blood. Nothing… I don’t know what I’m looking for. I cough again, and run my tongue over my teeth but I think they’re all there.
I go back to the shadows. Sit down, back to the wall, I can’t bring myself to touch that fucking blanket again. It’s warm. I sit there. For an hour, maybe more. The flashing lights disappear. Silence reigns. I think about waiting for dawn but it’s just too far away.
I retrieve my bag and walk out to the street. My car is three blocks away. I stash the bag in the well where the spare tire should be. Look in the mirror. Blood all over my mouth. I think they broke my nose. I touch it and it’s sore but it’s not bad. Just kicked me until I got a bloody nose. A little reprieve.
There’s a boot-print on my cheek.
If I drive away they’ll stop me. I crawl into the back seat and put the seats down. Crawl into the trunk. Curl up under some blankets. I was going to read, or listen to an audiobook. Instead I just lay there in pain.
I fall asleep.
I wake up in the middle of the afternoon. It’s hot as hell. I can’t get out of the car or people will see my face. I bake in that fucking oven until it’s good and dark. Crawl out, crawl into the driver’s seat, and drive away.
No one stops me.
Get out to the woods. Stop in the shade by a little creek. Open the trunk and dump the bag right there. A whole sampler of the Rolex lineup. A plat Daytona, a few gold Presidents. A few old Subbies but no Bakelite. Some random trade-ins: old Calatrava, fat Panerai, sleek new Moser QP. A few strings of pearls, pieces of estate jewelry. Dull shine in the trunk of my car.
She said it was worth about four hundred grand. She loved adding up the prices – standing there at work, dreaming on it, smiling to herself while she helped some teenager finance an engagement ring. I’ll get twelve cents on the dollar. Maybe they’ll go up a point or two. Won’t hurt to try. I’ll get what I get. I’ll be paid by the end of the day.
I want to take a picture of what they did to me. Show the world. Get justice. Vengeance at least.
I walk to the creek, get down on my knees, and wash my face.