by Andy Rausch
This was Carl’s third house of the night, and he still had two more he wanted to hit before morning. As he’d gotten older, he’d become a much better robber, but the downside was that he’d come to loathe his work with a fiery passion. Maybe it was the two falls he’d already taken for B&E, or maybe it was because he felt like the Last of the Mohicans now that all his old road dogs were behind bars. But mostly Carl believed it was just a part of getting older. Even as he’d become wiser and had learned to take less chances, he still had to take some. Chances came part and parcel with this line of work. And topping it off, Carl’s body was showing signs of fatigue. He became tired much more quickly these days, and the treasures he carried out of the houses were getting getting heavier and heavier.
Carl hadn’t wanted to go out robbing tonight, but he had no choice. He’d been dating Porcupine Tina for a couple weeks now, but she refused to put out. She said she’d only screw him if he agreed to take her to this new highfalutin’ expensive-ass restaurant in Manhattan. She’d read about it in the Times, and had told him it was all the rage. “Movie stars go there,” she said. “There was a picture of Nicole Kidman eating there!” She thought going there might somehow give her class, but Carl doubted it, just as he doubted that all the women in the place combined had seen as many dicks as Tina had. When Carl was growing up, his dad had a saying about girls like her—if she had as many dicks sticking out of her as she’d had stuck in her she’d be a porcupine. Hence the name Porcupine Tina.
Carl was in the dark house, shining his flashlight down on a laptop. It was an older model, probably five or six years old. That wasn’t old for most things—Carl had underwear that were older by a mile—but it was literally a lifetime for a laptop. “Fuck it,” he muttered, sticking the laptop in his bag. He turned around and was shocked to find himself face to face with a little boy.
“Who are you?” asked the boy, squinting into the light. “Are you Santa Claus?”
Seeing his way out, Carl jumped on this. “Yeah, I am,” he said. “I’m Santa Claus.”
The boy tilted his head. He looked unsure, like he was trying to work out a mathematical equation in his head. “Are you sure?”
“What? You don’t think I know who I am?”
“Why are you here?”
Carl paused. “Well, I’m here, you know, doing Santa stuff.”
“But Christmas is eighteen days away,” said the boy.
“Eighteen days, huh?”
“Yeah, I count ’em off every day. I got a Santa Claus face calendar with cotton balls on his beard over each day. I remove a piece of cotton every morning until Christmas, and right now there are eighteen cotton balls left.”
Carl nodded. “That’s a good system.”
“But my Daddy told me you didn’t exist,” said the boy.
“He sure did. But I knew he was wrong. I knew it!”
“Why do you think he did that?”
The boy scrunched up his face, looking perplexed. “I don’t know.”
“Well, I know,” said Carl.
“He did it because he was naughty.”
The boy’s eyes got big. “Daddy’s naughty?”
“He lied about me not being real. You know what that is? Naughty with a capital N.”
“Maybe he just didn’t know,” offered the boy.
“No, he knew. He just did that to be naughty. He was lying to you, trying to hurt your feelings. So that’s why I’m here. Normally I only come to houses and leave presents on Christmas. But this is something different. This is a special occasion. Your Daddy’s been naughty, so I had to come to teach him a lesson.”
“Good,” said the boy. “Daddy needs to be good and stop lying. It was shitty that he did that.” The little boy looked at him. “Can I say that? ‘Shitty,’ I mean?”
“Don’t worry about it,” said Carl. “It’ll be our secret.”
The boy’s eyes dropped to the bag in Carl’s hand. Next his eyes moved to the spot where the laptop had been. Then he looked at Carl.
“You lookin’ for the laptop?” asked Carl.
“Yeah. Where is it?”
“I gotta take it for a while, to teach Daddy a lesson.”
The kid’s face brightened. “But the laptop’s Mommy’s.”
“Oh,” said Carl. “Well, she let him lie, so she’s in trouble, too. I’m gonna take some of their stuff for a few weeks. Then I’ll bring it back on Christmas after they’ve learned their lesson.”
“That’s a good idea.”
“What’s your name, kid?”
This confused the boy. “Don’t you know?”
Carl knew he’d said the wrong thing. “I’m not gonna lie to you, kid, it’s hard to keep everybody’s names straight. Sometimes I forget.”
The boy nodded. “I forget stuff, too. I got an aunt that’s got a big mustache like a cowboy. Sometimes I forget her name. My sister Tammy and me call her Chewbacca, so then when I see her I wanna call her Chewbacca, but I know that’s not the right name.”
“What is her name?” asked Carl.
“I still don’t know.”
“Fuck it,” said Carl. “Call that bitch Chewbacca.”
The boy started to laugh and then caught himself. He looked at Carl. “You said a bad word.”
“Actually I said two. So, what was your name?”
“Billy,” said the boy.
“Oh, now I remember,” said Carl. “Well, I gotta get back to work. I’ve got other houses I gotta go to tonight.”
Carl turned to take a second look at the TV he’d passed in the dark living room. It was a decent set, probably middle-of-the-pack in terms of price and quality, but he wasn’t sure he could get it out of the house without making a lot of noise.
“If you really wanna teach my Daddy a lesson, you should take his baseball card collection,” said Billy.
This caught Carl’s attention, and he turned back to Billy, shining the flashlight on him. “Your Daddy collects baseball cards?”
“Oh yeah. It’s his favorite thing in the world. He’s always bragging about how much they’re worth. He says the Hank Aaron card he bought this summer cost about the same as a ski boat.”
Carl’s eyes got big. “Really?”
“Yeah,” said Billy. “And he’s got a whole bunch of Mickey Mantle cards, too. Mickey’s his favorite player, even though he retired before Daddy was even born.”
“He’s got a bunch of Mickey Mantle cards?”
“He’s probably got about twenty, all expensive and locked in a glass case in the study. Well, most of ’em anyway.”
Carl felt his heart drop. “They’re locked away?”
“Yeah,” said Billy. “But I know where the key is.”
“Lead the way, kid.”
As they walked through the house, Billy turned and asked, “Do you need another bag? I can get a trash bag. There’s a whole bunch of cards. Daddy says there’s probably enough to pay my way through college.”
Carl said, “Sure, I’ll take a trash bag.”
Billy went into the kitchen and switched on the light. He grabbed a trash bag from beneath the sink, and then turned and led Carl to the study. There was a big glass case full of cards along the wall. Carl could have broken the glass easy, but it would have made a helluva racket. Billy walked across the room and grabbed the key out of a desk drawer. He unlocked the case, and the two of them cleaned it out, putting all the cards in the trash bag.
When they were done, Billy asked, “Do you think that’s enough to teach Daddy a lesson? Or do you need more stuff?”
“I should probably go, kid.”
Billy nodded. “Are you sure?”
Carl almost laughed. “I think we’re good.”
He started towards the door when he heard Billy ask, “What about the safe?” Carl stopped and turned around. “What safe?”
“Daddy’s got a safe in the study.”
“What’s in it?” asked Carl.
“Stacks of money and some papers.” He looked at Carl for a moment, still thinking, and then said, “Oh, I forgot! And Daddy’s favorite thing.”
“What is it?”
“Daddy’s got a baseball card he spent $60,000 on. It’s a Mickey Mantle rookie card. Daddy says it’s mint.” Billy stopped for a minute, his face twisting into a confused expression. “If it’s mint, does that mean I can eat it?”
“No,” said Carl. “It’s a different kind of mint.” He paused for a beat before saying, “Let’s go to the safe. I really need to get going.”
Billy led him back to the study. They walked past the empty card case and Billy approached a framed painting of Babe Ruth, pointing towards the outfield. “It’s behind there,” said Billy.
Carl approached the painting, sitting down his bags. He pulled back the picture, finding that it was on hinges. When he did, he saw the face of a gray safe staring out at him. He looked at Billy. “Do you know the combination?”
“Yeah, it’s my birthday.”
Billy studied him. “Don’t you know?”
Carl sighed. “I forget stuff. Cut me some slack, kid.”
“My birthday is May 4, 2010.”
Carl turned back to the safe, twisting the nob to five, then four, and then ten. He turned the handle, and he heard the bolt unlock. He opened the safe and saw two fat stacks of hundreds, which would be more than enough to take Porcupine Tina to that rich la-di-da burger joint. He pulled out the cash and tossed the stacks into the bag. Peering into the safe, he moved a stack of documents and found the Mickey Mantle card lying there inside a hard plastic sleeve. He pulled it out and stared at it for a moment, admiring it. “She’s a beaut,” he said, sticking it in his back pocket.
He picked up the bags and looked at Billy. “I gotta go, kid. Santa’s got shit to do.”
Carl walked out of the study and through the dark living room, moving towards the door. When he reached it, he realized Billy was standing behind him. Carl turned and looked at the kid, slightly illuminated by the light from the kitchen. Carl turned back towards the door, pulling it open. He opened the storm door and stepped out into the cold night.
“Goodbye, Santa.” And for a moment Carl felt bad about all this. He stopped and turned towards Billy. “I got something for you, kid.” He reached into the bag and pulled three hundred dollar bills out, handing them to Billy. “Go get yourself some candy,” he said. Billy’s eyes were as big as silver dollars. “But whatever you do, don’t tell your Mommy and Daddy about this. No matter what happens, this is our secret and the money is yours. Deal?”
Billy looked at him, smiling big, a gleam in his eye. “You bet, Santa!”
Carl turned and walked towards the stolen Chevy pickup parked at the curb.
Billy watched him climb into the truck, hoping he’d look back so they could wave at one another, but he didn’t. But Billy didn’t care, because he knew he’d definitely be on the nice list now. He’d helped Santa, which was a thing none of the other kids at school had done, and this made him special. Billy smiled, closing the door. He looked down at the bills in his hand.
“Thank you, Santa,” he whispered.
And he went to bed, dreaming sweet, innocent dreams about he and his new friend Santa Claus.
PLEASE SUPPORT ANDY RAUSCH BY PURCHASING ANY OF HIS NONFICTION BOOKS OR NOVELS ON AMAZON. HIS NOVELS INCLUDE MAD WORLD, RIDING SHOTGUN AND OTHER AMERICAN CRUELTIES, ELVIS PRESLEY: CIA ASSASSIN, M-COMPANY IN THE AXIS OF EVIL, AND MANY OTHERS.