By Duncan Ros
Charlie Cotton looked down the road at the oncoming headlights as he stood smoking a Camel and staring at the darkness of the woods with a garbage bag in his pocket. His old body ached with its mileage, and when he thought about his life and everything in it, he knew to count himself lucky—another day above ground was a good day, especially considering where he might be headed after.
The car pulled up next to him and he walked to the driver’s side. It was an old Toyota sedan. “What took you so long to get here, Marvin? I’ve been out here freezing off my ass.”
“Just get in.”
To most people, Marvin appeared to be a fat lazy slob. Those that knew him well, however, could attest to his ability to scheme, his creativity, and his general knowledge of almost any random subject that wasn’t at all necessary or useful unless it had to do with criminal activity. The two had lived in the same halfway house while trying to get clean, and the two had both been in prison together.
There was a woman in the passenger seat. She had the sweet smell of shampoo, cigarettes, and leather. She was about forty and had a bright set of fake teeth between her red gums. “This is Jeanette,” said Marvin. “She’s been temping as a receptionist at the vet clinic.”
“How ya doing, I’m Charlie,” he said, putting his cigarette in one mouth and shaking her hand with the other as Marvin hit the accelerator.
“I’m going to be doing a hell of a lot better after we get this money,” she said, laughing deep and raspy.
“Put that thing out, I don’t want you smoking in the car,” said Marvin, talking to his rearview at Charlie.
“Why not? I know this ain’t your car.”
“Who gives a shit. The cops find the car and a few Camel filters, then find a pack of Camels on you. Or they got that DNA shit and find your spit on a butt.”
“Why would they go through all that?”
“Because that’s the worst-case scenario. Don’t jerk me, Charlie.”
“Whatever you say,” he finished his smoke and let it fly out the cracked window.
“Alright, so, here’s the plan. I didn’t want to say nothing until the three of us were together in person: Jeanette knows the code to the safe and knows where the safe is. What you’re going to do is a smash ’n grab—because she don’t have a key, or couldn’t get one, or whatever—”
“Hey, it’s not like I didn’t try.”
“It’s alright. But what I’m going to do is drop you two off, and at just before 8 p.m., a fire is going to start up at this real asshole of a car dealer’s—sold me a fucking lemon. That’s right during the shift change at the station.”
“How do you know their shift change?” Asked Jeanette.
“Because I know a guy who knows a guy, and I checked up on it. Just drive by sometime around 8 pm and watch the shift change. So that’ll be a diversion, right? So you can bust in and get whatever drugs or medicines you can, and try to get what’s in the safe. Should be about ten to twenty grand in there. I’d say you get about two or three minutes.”
“How are we gonna get in the safe?” Asked Charlie.
“Didn’t you hear what I just said?”
“I know the code,” said Jeanette. “It’s 41959. I think maybe the owner was born in April of 1959.”
“How did you figure that out?” Asked Charlie.
“You ever seen a receptionist desk? Those girls don’t have anything else to do besides talk.”
“I’ve got a police scanner here,” Marvin patted the radio next to the automatic shifter, “so I’ll keep my ears out for what the cops are doing. If anything happens, I’ll text you, but it’ll just be one word: STOP, in all caps. That means get the fuck out, but in court, it would just look like I’m telling one of those automated messaging systems to cut it out and I just messaged the wrong thing.” He pulled off the state route and onto Old Pacific Highway headed north. “They’ve got cameras, so I’ve got pantyhose in the trunk, and some superglue. Put that shit all over your hands and let it dry so you won’t leave prints. And I’ve got shoe cozies too.”
Charlie stopped fidgeting and said, “Shoe cozies?”
“You know the Night Stalker back in the eighties?”
“That Mexican guy?”
“Yeah, with the Pentagram on his hand? They almost busted him because of a shoe print. We don’t want to leave any shoe prints.”
“Okay. Shoe cozies it is, then.”
Marvin pulled the Toyota into the parking lot of the Triangle Mall. It was quiet and dark. The vet clinic was a block up and through the alley. He popped the trunk and they filed out, Marvin a little slower than the others due to his large size. Jeanette and Charlie rifled through a trunk full of incriminating objects, tying the pantyhose around their heads and putting the white shoe cozies over their feet. Charlie had wing-tipped cowboy boots that he was proud of, and the shoe cozies had a hard time keeping their grip on the leather ridge of the boot.
“Don’t forget the glue,” said Marvin.
Jeanette grabbed the tube of Crazy Glue and squirted it into her hands and rubbed her fingers together until they started to dry, then handed it to Charlie.
“You don’t have any gloves? This stuff can’t be good for your skin.”
“No gloves, Charlie.” Marvin was close enough for Charlie to smell his Old Spice body wash mixed with the smell of his sweat. It made him think of his days back in prison, when he wasn’t sure he’d ever get out, and when the closest thing to having a physical relationship with a woman was having one with a man. Charlie had tried to make it a bi-weekly habit of visiting some of the by-the-hour girls at the Longview trailer park when he could hitch a ride, but it always felt like something was missing. He squirted the glue onto his hands and rubbed them together, trying not to think about it.
“You got a watch?” Asked Marvin to both.
“We’ve got phones,” said Jeanette.
“Oh yeah, right. Okay, Be out of there by 8:03. You got it?”
“Alright. Hop to.” He patted her rear, got back to the driver’s seat, and zoomed out of the parking lot into the empty street.
Marvin drove across town and parked across the street from Cliff’s Motors. He kept an eye on his wristwatch, turning on the police scanner with his stubby fingers and listening to the dispatcher until it was ten minutes to eight, then he climbed out. Even though he wasn’t fast on his feet, he’d been spending some time with the high schoolers at the Highlander baseball diamond, and he’d been working on his fastball. If he had to guess, he’d say his fastball was somewhere around sixty miles per hour, but he didn’t have a way to test his theory.
He got three wine bottles out of the trunk of his car that were filled with gasoline, oil, and stuffed in the neck with soaked rags. There was a lime-green seventies duster across the way, right next to a red Jeep 4x4 and a silver full-sized pickup, all overpriced. The owner, an old sex offender who had a knack for rolling back odometers and polishing turds on four wheels had sold his last lemon. Marvin was the type of guy that would wait a year to raise five minutes of hell to a person he felt deserved it. At five minutes to eight, he lit the rags and threw three fastball strikes, nailing each vehicle in the windshield. He laughed hard until he started coughing and drove away.
The moment they busted the glass out of the back door an alarm went off. Jeanette went straight for the safe, while Charlie took the garbage bag out of his pocket and started throwing every kind of pet medicine into it. Bravecto, Revolution, Apoquel. They could all be sold at near-shelf prices online. He found some prescription medicine behind a locked glass cabinet and tried breaking it with his elbow. The glass tore through his coat and into his arm. “Ah, fuck,” he said. Blood started dripping down his elbow and onto the floor.
“What’s wrong?” Asked Jeanette.
“I cut my arm. I’m getting blood everywhere.”
“Just put pressure on it. I got the money.” She looked at her phone. No text messages. It was 8:03. “Let’s get out of here, he’s probably got a first-aid kit in the car. Come on.”
Charlie stumbled after her, holding his right arm with his left, the garbage bag gripped in his hand. They pulled the pantyhose awkwardly off of their heads and pocketed them, then ran back to the parking lot of the Triangle Mall.
Marvin’s chest had felt tight all day, and after those last three pitches, something wasn’t right. As he drove back to the mall, he tried hitting his chest to get it to stop fluttering, but it didn’t help. The police scanner was buzzing with news of the fire at Cliff’s Motors. Nothing yet about the veterinary hospital. He figured that maybe they were contracted to a security company that would have to check it out before calling the big boys. As he made the turn into the Triangle Mall parking lot, he leaned over to pop open the glovebox where he kept a bottle of Bayer. With his eyes off the road, the Toyota hopped the curb, plowing right into Jeanette, who hit the windshield and rolled off the hood. Marvin threw back a few aspirins and chewed. After a few moments, Charlie got in the passenger side with both bags.
“You got the money?”
“Yeah Marvin, I’ve got it.”
“She dead, you think?”
“Yeah, and I got her phone.”
“Alright. Let’s go.” He peeled onto the street headed back toward Old Pacific Highway, back to their cabin. Charlie had been on his own out there for weeks. Marvin’s coughing wouldn’t let up.
Charlie threw her phone out the window into the Lewis River and asked, “Is it your heart again?”
“I’ll be fine. What’s with your arm?”
“I cut it on some glass.”
“Shit. I’ll have to stitch you up when we get home.”
“I love you, Marvin.”
“Shut up.” Then, when he saw the hurt look on Charlie’s face he said, “I love you too, you idiot.”
The two drove in the quiet, happy enough to have each other again.
Duncan Ros is a writer and musician from the Pacific Northwest.