The only light in the dark room came from the red-and-green bulbs on the Christmas tree. Tim stood before the tree, staring out the eyeholes of his ski mask, looking up at the angel mounted above him. The angel had watched over the birth of the savior of mankind. Now, it was regulated to watching over shiny packages stuffed underneath a plastic tree. Tim smiled at the thought.
“Hey, Tim. Nobody home.”
He turned around, saw his partner coming down the stairs.
“No names,” Tim said, “and put your fucking mask back on.”
“Didn’t you hear me? Nobody home.”
“What if they come home? You want them to see your face?”
“I don’t like the way it feels against my skin. All fuzzy and all. It makes me itch.”
“Goddamnit, Larry,” Tim said, “put your mask back on.”
“I thought we weren’t using names?”
Tim sighed and checked his watch as Larry pulled the ski mask down over his face and stepped farther into the living room, admiring the tree.
“They got a lot of ornaments on that thing,” Larry said. “How long do you think it took them to hang all those? I hate hanging ornaments.”
“Yeah. Me too. Look, it’s almost midnight. I don’t know where these people are. Maybe at a friend’s house, grandma’s house, I don’t care. Maybe they’re not coming back tonight, but maybe they are, and if they are, I want to be the fuck out of here before they come in, okay?”
“So how about you go find the master bedroom and get the jewelry and whatever else looks good, and I’ll stay down here and handle the china cabinet.”
“Take only what you can fit in the bag,” Tim offered as parting advice as Larry went back upstairs. He made his own way into the dining room. He switched on his flashlight, panned it across the room, noticed the fine furniture, the chandelier hanging from the ceiling. It wasn’t a big home, and the people who owned it weren’t rich, but they certainly weren’t hurting, either.
Tim shined his light on the china cabinet and walked over to it. He opened it up and grabbed all he could and shoved the loot into a gym bag. When the shelves were empty, he closed the cabinet and zipped his bag shut and checked his watch again. They needed to go.
“Hey,” he called upstairs.
Larry came to the top of the stairs, his bag slung over his shoulder. He said down to Tim, “I found a safe.”
“Yeah. In the closet up here.”
“Why the fuck were you in the closet?”
“I was looking to see if they had anything else around,” Larry said, “maybe some money stashed somewhere, so I looked in the closet and I found a safe in the wall.”
“I don’t know how to crack a safe.”
“Neither do I.”
“So what are we talking about? Let’s get out of here.”
“Can’t we try something? A screwdriver or something like that?”
“I don’t think it works that way. Come on.”
Larry came down the stairs, his fat ass stomping loud with each step. Tim rolled his eyes and tried to ignore it, checked his watch again, gave the Christmas tree another look, all the presents underneath it. They all looked so colorful and pristine, perfect folds, little ribbons wrapped around them, bows on top.
Tim, knowing he shouldn’t but he did anyway, asked, “You figure these people give each other nice things for Christmas?”
“I’d imagine so.”
“How long do you think it’d take us to go through all those presents?”
Larry smiled. He liked the way his partner was thinking.
“I don’t know,” Larry said. “Five minutes, maybe?”
The burglars opened the presents. They tore into the paper, disregarding the careful folding and taping that went into the process of wrapping the packages, the sounds of the paper shredding and crinkling the only sounds in the house. They flung the toys they unwrapped into the corner, caring none whether they broke or not when they hit the floor. When they got to a necklace or a nice watch or some expensive gadget the adults of the household had bought for one another, they shoved them into their bags. By the time they were nearly finished, the floor was littered with wrapping paper.
Headlights beamed through the windows as a car pulled into the driveway.
“Shit,” Tim said and dropped the present in his hands and started looking for a place to hide. “I’ll get the closet by the door. You stay here. Get down behind the couch. We’ll jump them when they come in. Wait for me to make the first move.”
Tim headed for the coat closet. He opened it up and stepped inside and pulled the door toward him, but he didn’t close it all the way. It was cracked ever so slightly so he could peer out and see what was happening, and also so when he jumped out, he could just push the door open and not worry about turning the handle. For further precaution, he reached behind his back and when his hand came forward again he held a knife.
Outside, the car’s engine turned off and car doors opened and closed and footsteps walked toward the house. Keys jangled. The lock clicked open.
“Better get him to bed before he wakes up,” said the man entering the house, carrying a small child in his arms. He was followed by a pretty blonde woman, his wife. “Won’t get him back to sleep if he does.”
“I think he was out the second the minister started speaking,” said the wife, shrugging off her coat, pellets of snow on the shoulders, and thankfully tossing the coat onto the back of a chair instead of hanging it in the closet.
“Can’t blame him. I was falling asleep during the service, too. Same message every year.”
“It’s a Christmas Eve service. What do you expect them to talk about? Noah’s Ark?”
The husband turned the corner from the front hallway into the dining room, from where he could see the Christmas tree and the paper strewn all over the living room floor.
“Jesus Christ,” he said. “Honey, call—”
Tim burst out of the closet, grabbing the wife from behind. His gloved hand pressed firm on her mouth, keeping her quiet, and his knife came up to her throat. The husband took a step toward them before he was suddenly grabbed from behind by Larry, Larry pointing the tip of a knife into the man’s back.
“Now,” Tim said, “let’s get you all in the living room. Sit you down on the couch. Nobody talk and nobody put up a fight.”
They herded them into the couch, the victims going along with their commands. The young boy was still asleep.
The two burglars stood over the family, menacing in their black clothes and masks, still holding their knives.
Tim reached into his bag, his hand coming out with a roll of duct tape.
“Here,” he said, tossing the tape to Larry. “Tape them up.”
The sound of Larry tearing off the tape started waking the child. The boy was young, would probably start screaming when he saw the masked men. Larry put a piece of tape over his mouth first.
“You opened all of our presents,” the husband said as Larry wrapped the tape around his wrists, then moved down to his ankles. “It’s Christmas Eve. Don’t do this.”
Larry pushed a piece of tape on the man’s mouth, shutting him up. He moved to the wife after that, taped her mouth and her wrists. He started to do her ankles, then Tim told him to stop.
Leaning in close to her face, holding his knife close to her face, Tim said, “You got a safe in this house, yeah?”
Her eyes were red with tears. She nodded in response to his question.
“You’re going to take my partner to the safe. We’ve found it. We know where it is, so don’t try anything funny. You’re going to enter the combination for him, then you’re going to step back and let him take whatever’s inside. If you try anything, he will kill you, and I will kill your husband and boy. Understand?”
She nodded again.
“Stand up,” he said. He checked his watch, told Larry to go on up with her. The two of them disappeared up the stairs.
“You sure do have a pretty house here,” Tim said to the husband. The man, obviously, couldn’t respond. He just stared at Tim, then moved his eyes toward his child, who was fully awake now and whimpering through the tape on his mouth.
A crash came from the second floor, sounded like glass breaking, followed by a heavy thud.
“Fuck,” Tim said, walking toward the stairs. “Everything okay up there?”
There was no response. He looked at his victims taped up on the couch, knew they weren’t going anywhere, and, a little reluctantly, he ventured up the stairs.
The hallway was dark. He flipped on his flashlight, held the light in one hand and his knife in the other. He called out again, asking, “Everything okay?”
He continued on, came to the end of the hall and an open door leading into the bedroom on his right. He stepped in, and the second he crossed the threshold he felt a sharp pierce into the left side of his chest. He staggered backward into the hall, gasping, swinging his knife in the air at no particular target.
His partner’s knife stuck out of his chest, blood oozing from the wound.
Tim started to pull the knife from his chest, but he was hit with something heavy and fell to his knees, a loud shattering as the china in the bag on his shoulder broke with the fall. His mind stopped thinking rationally, and he thought only of escape. He crawled along the hardwood floor, leaving drops of red as he did so, headed toward the stairs and a way out. Footsteps followed behind him, the mother carrying a baseball bat.
When he reached the top of the stairs, he tried standing, wobbling his way up, and the mother hit him again with the bat, and he fell forward, rolled down the stairs. Larry’s knife was only pushed further into his chest as this happened, jamming deep into a lung. Blood rose in his throat, and he started choking.
He hit the floor at the bottom of the stairs. He could see the lights of the Christmas tree and he took off his ski mask and coughed red. Things turned fuzzy, but he made out the angel sitting on top of the tree. The angel just sat there, emotionless, staring down at Tim, offering no help as the burglar choked on his own blood.