A TRAPPED THIEF • by Mike McArthur

Stealing requires finesse, timing, and attention to detail. I was trying to figure out which attribute I lacked as police sirens wailed in the background.

“Next time, we steal something lighter!” my wife said.

It was an example of her skill and grace that she kept pace with plan B – running away. The skirts from her old Victorian dress did not impede her, nor did the baby carriage she was pushing. What was slowing us down was the stolen immortality in the carriage – a solid bronze statue of a small peeing boy.

“Miranda, am I a bad thief?” I asked.

“Honey, good thieves don’t leave calling cards with their names.”

I might lack timing – or maybe finesse – but I make up for it with sheer optimism. “Just think of the headlines! ‘The Piss taken out of the police; The Mannekin Pis stolen by charming thieves Miranda and Bartholomew!’ Nobody will forget our names.”

“The police certainly won’t if they catch us!”

I took her warning to heart and picked up the pace. Soon we were in the heart of the city where Brussels greeted us with open arms. We weaved through dizzying displays of costumes, for this Halloween. Children ran around as monsters, soldiers and all manner of things as their parents watched over them. Miranda smiled at a ghost and waved to a little girl dressed up as a pirate. We hid in the chaotic energy of the night and disappeared into a side street, evading the police.

Further down the side street, away from prying eyes, was an alcove. And in that alcove was a glass display embedded in the wall. As Miranda opened the case I leaned down and inspected the statue.

“Charon will give us what. An extra twenty-five years?”

“It saved a town, darling, but it’s just a mascot. Seventeen years.”

“Bah, Charon has a weakness for humor. He’ll take it, distill it and boom! An extra twenty five-years.”

As we strained to lift the statue, Miranda grunted, “We need helpers.”

Having helpers sounded like a great idea. I nodded as we finally lifted the statue in place. As we recovered, lights turned on from behind the display case. A robed figure emerged from the interior, picked up the statue and slowly moved towards a large cauldron.

Miranda snapped her fingers. “Not helpers, accomplices.”

“Apprentices,“ I suggested, and we both smiled.

“Like how dear old Goedertier taught us,” Miranda said. “It would be best if we taught them while they were young.”

I turned away to face the entrance of the side street. “Yes. Young and impressionable apprentices, ones that will praise us.” Off in the distance, I could see the police leaving the area, oblivious to our presence.

“In fact, it might be best if we raised them ourselves.”

Alarm bells rang in my head. I turned around just in time to see the trap spring close around me.

“Like maybe having children?” Miranda asked.

A dozen excuses ran through my mind, but Miranda looked up at me and ran her hand through my hair — the same way she had when we first met. “You promised me we would have this discussion. This isn’t going to last forever. No more Belgian artifacts, no more extended life.”

She was right. Charon might be able to distill immortality from objects imbued with legend and infamy, but his tastes for only Belgian artifacts was eccentric, not to mention problematic. And I had promised we would have this discussion. I was trapped — a better thief might have been able to escape, but well. I was Bartholomew, and I was—

“Scared,” I said, “I’m scared of having children and messing it up. Just like tonight.”

“That wasn’t your fau—”

I interrupted, “Remember when I suggested we become scientists? I made the Fast-Draw Robot. When that failed, we tried being architects — my bridge twisted in the wind, and finally, business entrepreneurs! What was the name of our company? Blockbuster!”

Miranda winced. We both remembered my speech about how VHS tapes wouldn’t die.

I took a deep breath. “I’m the world’s greatest fool! You think I can raise a child?”

“You’re scared?” Miranda said. “You, who supported Daens even when the church condemned him? You, who stayed as others fled in the Battle of Yser? You’re scared of raising children?”

“I’m scared of burying my child! We don’t know if they are going to be immortal like us, Miranda.”

We were both silent. Miranda embraced me and whispered in my ear.

“You once told me it’s okay to be scared, but don’t let fear control you. I don’t want to bury my children either, but I want to have children before I die. Do you know why you’re a bad thief?”

Her sudden question caught me off guard.

“You lack daring,” Miranda explained. “Every heist has to be planned to the last detail, and backup plans need backups. But when the moment strikes, you pause the project to make sure nobody gets hurt. You look back to make sure everyone is okay. You help me up, tripping the infrared sensors.” She gave a wry smile. “These things will make you a great father — not a fool. So please, be daring, even though it may hurt. Be daring, for me.”

A bell interrupted my answer, and I looked back at the glass case to see two goblets. Across their stems was a small piece of paper with the words “Seventeen Years” written on it. I opened the case, passed a goblet to Miranda and grabbed my own.

“To parenthood?” Miranda asked, raising her goblet in a toast.

My mind raced through all the scenarios where things could go wrong. I was afraid, but I would be daring. For Miranda.  For our future.  For our legacy. I lifted my goblet. “To parenthood.”

When not fending off bills, Mike McArthur regularly takes part in obscure literary cage matches.

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