The Con After The Storm

The storm knocked out the neighborhood’s power. It was still raining the next day as Eddie and I drove through the old folk’s trailer park. Tree branches littered front yards, and the gutters overflowed with runoff and debris. The elderly residence sat under eaves on their front porches, waiting for the restoration of electricity. At the last trailer on the block an old lady sat alone in a rocking chair, knitting a quilt.
+++++“Her,” Eddie said.
+++++I turned the corner, and parked the van.
+++++I first met Eddie in Juvenile Hall. He was my cellmate. Like me, his youth was spent in abusive foster homes. Eddie landed in Juvie as a result of his violent tendencies. I gained residency in the Hall for borrowing other kid’s video game consoles. I didn’t think it was a problem, but apparently appropriating something from a locked house with nobody home was a no-no.
+++++Eddie was a massive hulking giant with an exceptionally small head, a limp and a harelip. The other kids in the Hall mocked him obsessively about his large stature, tiny head and goofy walk until he started cracking skulls. After that, nobody messed with him.
+++++I was an average kid of normal height and build with one exception: A shock of white hair blazed across the left side of my black locks. Everybody called me Skunk and ostracized me, but it wasn’t until puberty that I really attained freak status.
+++++Most kids have acne in adolescence, but one morning I woke up, and oozing red boils had colonized the entire surface of my face. Real estate was especially desirable on my nose. My carbuncular appearance made me the ridicule of every schoolyard I hallowed. In Juvie, Eddie stuck up for me. If my bubbly face offended some kid, Eddie offended the kid’s face with his fists. After Juvenile Hall, the plundering wens disappeared as mysteriously as they had arrived, leaving my head a pockmarked moon.
+++++Our socially unacceptable physical appearances, and our similar experiences growing up in shitty foster homes initially bonded us while doing time together, but it was grifting that solidified our camaraderie. Released from incarceration around the same time, we split the rent on a dumpy apartment. Stealing video game cartages from Wal-Mart, and hocking them at the used video game stores was our initial source of income. We made rent with this line of work for several months until the venture ceased being lucrative. Our next endeavor entailed rolling drunks after the bars let out, and again our enterprise kept a roof overhead until Eddie got a little too rough with a drunkard one night, shattering the poor bastard’s teeth with a ball-peen hammer.
+++++It was a rotten thing to do, but I figured nobody cared enough about an alky’s dental work to cause a stink. I was wrong. The incident made the evening news. They even broadcast sketches of the suspects. The profiles looked nothing like us. I don’t know how you screw that up because a haggard skunk and a giant with a baby’s head are sights you don’t soon forget. I attribute the misidentification to luck, but regardless of our good fortune, the gig was up, and we were forced to seek other means of gainful employment.
+++++We sat in the van, eating a cold pizza. I didn’t like the look in Eddie’s eye, and I certainly didn’t like what he’d done to the last old lady we’d marked. I meant to have a chat with him, but I never got around to it. I finished my half of the ductile pie, and pulled a dark work cap low over my brow, obscuring my hair and face. I exited the van into the rain, wearing a denim shirt and khaki pants with a flashlight in my pocket. Eddie stayed put, washing his pizza down with a two-liter bottle of Pepsi. When I reached the old lady’s porch, the rocking chair was empty.
+++++“Who’s there?” an old woman’s voice asked from within after I knocked on the front door.
+++++“Electric company,” I said.
+++++“Power’s been out all day,” the voice replied, and the door cracked as much as the chain allowed. “There was a loud crash last night, and the lights went out.”
+++++“Lines down all over town,” I said. “I’m here to restore your juice. Can I come in?”
+++++“You’re with the electric company?”
+++++“Yes,” I said. “We’re going door to door.”
+++++“I don’t know,” the voice hesitated.
+++++“It’ll be several days to a week before we can get you back on the grid if you miss this appointment.”
+++++“Okay,” the warbling voice said, and the door opened.
+++++I switched on my flashlight, and entered the darkened living room. A couch and a table stacked with quilts occupied the space. There was also a recliner, and an old television set. Embroidered kitsch hung on the walls, and a framed certificate of sobriety. A musty smell lingered in the air.
+++++“Where’s the breaker panel?” I asked, and the old woman led me down the hall to a closet.
+++++The tiny walk-in was filled with quilts. Various intricate patterns and colors adorned the folded blankets. She removed a stack, revealing a metal box in the wall. I pointed my light at the breaker switches, and rubbed my stubbly chin.
+++++“I’ll have your lights on in no time.”
+++++“Oh good,” she said.
+++++“It’s an easy fix, but it requires a fifty-dollar down payment.”
+++++“Fifty dollars,” she said, wrinkling her brow and wringing her hands.
+++++“Standard procedure.”
+++++“Hold on,” she said, and disappeared into the bedroom. I stood still, listening to a drawer open and close. She returned with a fifty-dollar bill. I stuffed Grant into my pocket, and flipped the breakers on and off.
+++++“Where’s your husband?” I asked.
+++++“Passed away,” she said.
+++++“Sorry to hear that. I left my voltmeter in the truck. I need it to check your current. Be right back.”
+++++Normally, I’d just take the money, and move on to the next sucker, but old people don’t trust banks. They tend to keep their savings squirreled away in their homes. Not to mention, I didn’t even know what a voltmeter was, or how to use one, but I sounded like I did.
+++++“How’d it go?” Eddie asked as I climbed into the van.
+++++“As expected,” I said, and flashed the fifty-dollar bill. “She’s alone, and keeps her money hidden in her bedroom.”
+++++“Dentures?” Eddie asked.
+++++“Let’s go,” I said, ignoring the question. “She thinks I went to get a tool.”
+++++I grabbed my loaded snub-nosed .38 from the glove compartment, and put it in my pocket. I wasn’t expecting trouble, but I wasn’t taking chances either. We exited the van, and made our way through the rain. I wished Eddie would at least try not to limp. If somebody saw us, and had to give our descriptions to the authorities, a giant with a hitch substantially drained the pool of suspects.
+++++The door was still unlocked, so we switched on our flashlights, and entered the living room. I tried to tell the old lady I brought along a co-worker, but before I could say anything, Eddie knocked her to the floor.
+++++Eddie was never really in it for the money. He enjoyed making people suffer. I came to this realization back when we rolled drunks. My interest was strictly financial, but Eddie delighted in blackening an eye, breaking a bone, or powdering some poor bastard’s teeth. Fortunately most old ladies we conned were toothless, but regardless, I needed to rein Eddie in before we lost another form of employment.
+++++“Lighten up,” I said. “She’s frangible.”
+++++“Grab the dough,” Eddie barked.
+++++I went into the old lady’s bedroom, and pointed my flashlight at an oak dresser, removing drawers, and turning them upside down. The top ones contained clothes, and the bottom ones were filled with more colorful quilts. I rifled through everything, but found no money. I was about to check under the bed when I heard Eddie swearing.
+++++“What’s wrong?” I asked, running back into the living room.
+++++“She’s got an emergency alert device around her neck,” he said. “I saw her push the button. We better dip before the cops show.”
+++++“We’re safe,” I said. “The power’s out. She can’t notify anybody.”
+++++“I don’t like it,” Eddie said, and removed the electronic pendant from her neck. “You get the money?”
+++++“I’m still looking,” I said, and returned to the bedroom.
+++++I tore apart the bed, and searched under the frame, finding more quilts. I pointed the flashlight at a nightstand, and removed the drawer. I discovered a leather satchel, opened it, and hit the jackpot, locating several thick bundles of cash. I snatched the money, stashing it in my pockets as something else inside the bag caught my eye.
+++++I trained my flashlight on an old yellowing photograph. The image was of a young boy. He looked about three years old. He had a toy ball in one hand and a water pistol in the other, and Band-Aids taped to both knees. A small streak of white hair marked the left side of his head.
+++++I paid special attention to the boy’s facial features. His smiling eyes were completely ignorant of the horrors that lay ahead. I ran my fingers over my scarred visage, gazing at the child’s smooth complexion until a mournful sound drew my attention away from the picture.
+++++I returned to the living room, and pointed my flashlight at Eddie. He stood over the old lady with his pants around his ankles.
+++++“Give me a minute,” he said, looking back with a sneer.
+++++The old lady was on the floor, crying. I drew my .38, and shot Eddie in the back of his tiny head. His massive body crumpled, and blood gushed from the wound.
+++++I pointed the flashlight at the old lady.
+++++“Don’t hurt me,” she said.
+++++I pocketed the gun, and turned the flashlight onto my face, removing my ball cap, and revealing the shock of white hair against my blackened coiffure.
+++++“Skunky-Poo?” She asked in bewilderment.
+++++I helped her to her feet as the front door opened, and a police officer with a drawn service revolver ordered me to put up my hands, and get down on the ground. I lay on the floor, realizing the crucial mistake I’d made: the emergency alert device ran on batteries.
+++++I had hoped to beat the rap on those home invasions, but fingerprints don’t lie. Fortunately I wasn’t charged with Eddie’s murder, or I’d be facing twenty-five to life. The judge at my trial deemed it self-defense. My return to incarceration has been hard, especially without Eddie there to protect me, but I can’t complain.   It could be worse. At least I have one of mom’s hand stitched quilts to keep me warm at night in my prison cell.

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Morgan Boyd

Morgan Boyd

Morgan Boyd lives in Santa Cruz California with his wife, daughter, cat, and carnivorous plant collection. He has been published online at Flash Fiction Offensive, Shotgun Honey, Near To The Knuckle, and Fried Chicken and Coffee. He also has stories forthcoming at Tough and Yellow Mama.
Morgan Boyd

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