A toothpick hung from Lester’s mouth. He supposed he ought to spit it out, but he felt naked without it. Boredom ate at him as the minutes dragged by like some endless newsreel at the movie house. At first he barely noticed her; just some broad with a full grocery cart until she stopped beside a shiny new Cadillac. Fate blessed him. Before he could come up with a plan she loosened her grip on the cart when she rummaged for her keys. Like a magnet to metal the cart headed his way. When he rescued the cart from the path of a van his gut said she’d try to pay him a tip. That’d be the beginning. He faked a yell and smothered a grin. The toothpick fell to the dirty pavement.
A limp sealed the deal. She offered him a ride home. Leather seats hinted at the treasures awaiting him. Lester knew her kind, one of those charitable types, always ready to give some poor slob a dollar so she could feel real good inside. But he didn’t want a dollar; a few small trinkets pilfered from her house would do much better. “Instead of dropping me off at home, maybe you’d let me off at the Dairy Queen. I haven’t eaten today.”
He crossed his fingers; it worked like a charm. “My husband is waiting at home for lunch. Why don’t you join us?”
“I don’t want to be no trouble, lady.”
“Of course it isn’t any trouble. Will your family be worried if you are gone for a while?”
“Nah, I don’t have any family around here.” A lie, but she wouldn’t know. His ma wasn’t expecting him much sooner than dinner time anyways.
Twenty minutes later the big Cadillac pulled into a long dirt driveway. The house sat back in an old orchard with a red barn off to the side. When he got out of the car he remembered to limp. A screen door slammed and a man’s voice said, “Hi, honey, did you get us lunch?”
“Yes, darling. Everything you wanted. Can you give me a hand here?”
“C’mon, honey, I’ve been busy all morning.”
“Okay. I’ll do it. I only hope I don’t break a nail or ruin my polish.”
Lester turned and out of the corner of his eye caught a glint of metal. “Women,” the man muttered. He winked at Lester. “She thinks I ought to go to some salon and have one of them manicures. Yeah, right.” A laugh gurgled up in his throat as he cleaned a thumbnail with the hunting knife. “By the way, what’s your name? I’m just called ‘hey you’ around here. Not really complaining, she’s a good woman, at least most of the time.” He stuck out his hand. “Bernie.”
“Lester. Pleased to meet you.” He sized up the man. Rough, calloused hands. Probably not all that smart. This’ll be easy. A few minutes in the house alone, pocket a few pieces of jewelry and he’d be sitting pretty. No need to rush, he had the whole afternoon.
Bernie pointed to the side of the barn where an old U-Haul sat. Someone had painted over the words, but Lester recognized the familiar orange markings. “I make a bit of extra change making deliveries for folks hereabouts. Already got some furniture loaded. I’ll be back in about an hour. Why don’t you hang around, and I’ll bring us back a couple of six packs.” He leaned forward and whispered. “She won’t tell me to quit drinking when we’ve got company.”
Lester watched the truck maneuver down the driveway. Now’d be a good time to size up the house. The lady’d be in the kitchen making the promised meal. He grinned. Stupid people. They deserved what they got. The door swung open and the woman stepped outside. “Lester, my neighbor called and needs to borrow a few potatoes. Do you mind waiting while I deliver them? You can come on in and sit down. I left some lemonade on the kitchen counter for you.” She smiled and patted his cheek.
He stood on the porch until the Cadillac disappeared from sight. What luck. They might as well have given him the keys to the bank. In the distance a siren wailed. Lester laughed and headed upstairs.
A broken gold chain rested on the dresser top of the first bedroom he entered. He scooped it up with a chuckle. The furniture held no interest. Too big. Of course, if he had that big truck then he might wrestle a few pieces downstairs. Nothing in the drawers besides clothes. The second bedroom didn’t have a stick of furniture. He checked the closet and found almost nine bucks in an old coat.
Outside the last bedroom a white hankie lay on the floor next to a silver bracelet. Pay dirt. Underneath he discovered a switchblade knife. Lester knew this must be his lucky day. With a big smile he opened the door. Drawers hung open, their contents spilling out. Perfume dripped on the carpet from a cracked bottle.
Howling sirens interrupted his search. He pushed the curtain aside as two police cars raced up the drive. He dashed down the hall. A man’s voice yelled. “Hold it right there. Hands on your head. Now!” A second cop approached, gun drawn, and opened the bathroom door. “Shit. We’re too late.” He grabbed Lester and jerked him to the doorway. “I ought to beat you to hell right now for what you did, you bastard.”
Lester felt bile tickle the back of his throat. He’d never seen so much blood. Pools of it on the floor and dripping down the walls. Red drops on the mirror. Sink. Tub. Toilet. A really old lady lay on the floor. Eyes staring. Her throat sliced open. He felt the cop searching him. “Look at this,” the cop said to his partner. Lester heard the knife click and saw the bloody blade.
Anne Marie Gomez owns a business that designs custom gardens for people’s homes. She also raises a variety of flowers from seed and enjoys sharing the seedlings with other home gardeners. Her free time is devoted to writing, writing, and then more writing.