The Great Heist

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Action and Adventure  |  House: Booksie Classic
In an old woman's worst nightmare, her daughter's boyfriend becomes trapped inside the building he's trying to rob. Her daughter, with no job and no money, doesn't know where her next meal and next month's rent will come from. At what length will she go to break out her skinny boyfriend, who eats all day, while her deadbeat roommate, who lifts weights all day, ridicules them and does nothing to help. For the omniscient narrator, this situation may have brought to mind the Three Stooges.

Submitted: June 14, 2015

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Submitted: June 14, 2015

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Coyotes' mournful cries, in the hills above Poughkeepsie, Arkansas, echoed among the giant spruce trees, casting ghostly moon-shadows over a small ranch house nestled on the banks of the Strawberry River, where old Duncan lay beneath the kitchen table, twitching and dreaming of days gone by, where a gray-haired woman, who much resembled Beth Marie Carson, was caught in the throes of a horrible nightmare. Lying next to her snoring husband in their sagging bed, the woman convulsed and moaned as a rust-covered van, towing a bastardized yellow Gremlin/Pacer loaded with weights and barbells, smoked through her dream and lurched up the driveway, stopping short of a Dodge D300 with CARSON WELDING painted on the sides.

Someone was pounding on the kitchen door. Duncan raised his left eyelid and perked up his right ear. Elmer rolled over and farted, jostling the woman awake. She grabbed her bathrobe and stumbled down the hallway. The clock read 3:52 as she and Duncan stared, bleary eyed, at two strange men and a familiar face. "Woof," said Duncan, wagging his tail…

No, … the woman's nightmare hadn't started then, but some 32 hours earlier in another state. And so the story begins …

* * *

A swirl of angst had materialized in the stillness above the Mississippi River and crept westward toward the tiny village of Brazeau, Missouri, some 160 miles northeast of Poughkeepsie as the crow flies, perhaps 250 by the most direct route. An ancient two-story brick building, housing a combination hardware and rental store below and an apartment above, sat near the intersection of Highways C and 418, right at the end of Church Lane.

Stars were coming out over Brazeau that Sunday evening as the old woman's dream sprang to life. A multicolored van rattled past Torkelson's abandoned Sinclair station and smoked to a stop behind the store. Just to the van's left sat the decaying corpse of a three-toned yellow Gremlin/Pacer whose many body parts had been replaced over the years from Schaupert's junkyard. The car’s owner, Phillip Garwich, known as Phug, hadn't moved that … that modern-day sculpture since its head gasket had blown last month.

Engine oil fumes permeated the air as Alan Slater, alias Slat, grabbed his family-sized bag of Doritos and a case of Pabst beer from the torn passenger seat. He kicked open the caved-in van door and it swung wide, severing the Pacer's mirror. Slat carefully placed the mirror back on its mount, but it promptly toppled onto the gravel as he dashed through the weeds and charged up the rotting exterior steps, three at a time.

The doorbell dinged and dinged in the dingy three-room apartment with cracked plaster and ratty carpets. "Get that, Phug," Beth Marie yelled, "I'm pinching a loaf."

Phug, straining to lift weights next to the nineteen-inch TV, was trying to beat his personal record. He knew who was standing out there, but the skinny shit could wait. Screw him. This was more important. "Hold your horses … Slat," he said, grunting, "B.M.'s takin' a shit." Phug was average height, and a muscular beer gut stuck out between his tight T-shirt and cut-offs. Straight, brown hair matched his moustache and complemented his many tattoos. He'd been living with Beth Marie for over a year now, and she was supporting them both.

All over Perry County and in the surrounding communities, Beth Marie was affectionately known as B.M., and she loved it. Henceforth, she will be referred to as B.M.

The bell dinged and dinged as B.M., struggling to zip her overstuffed jeans, waddled past. "Damn it, Phug, the door's ringing." She was four inches shorter than Phug and outweighed him by at least a hundred pounds. A striking brunette with a doll's face, B.M. wore only the finest clothes money could buy, giant T-shirts and blue jeans, all from the Salvation Army store over in Perryville. Her lovely body sported an assortment of pierced accessories and tattoos. She adored her silver eyebrow ring, a gift from Slat.

And B.M. loved laughing, but lately her laughs had gotten harder to come by.

Phug hung his barbell on the rack as B.M. yanked the door open. There, in the doorway, stood a gangly man in his early twenties, sporting an eyebrow ring matching B.M.'s. He had a large nose, scraggly beard, and unruly blond hair, and wore a ripped T-shirt, tight blue jeans with a large belt buckle, and cowboy boots. A big grin revealed gapped, yellow teeth.

"Slat!" Phug said, "So nice of you to come." He eyed the Pabst. "Beasts? Christ, Slat, you broke again?" Money didn't come easy in these parts, and Slat was always broke around Phug.

Slat tossed the beer and chips on the couch and grabbed B.M. Their lips and bodies locked together like sticktights on wool socks.

"Watch it," Phug said, handing around cold ones.

"How's my B.M.?" Slat said, as they peeled apart.

"Dick-head Jurk's gonna boot me if I don't make rent. You got any extra bread?" Rudolph Jurk owned their building and ran the store. He had all the money.

"I'm ass out," Slat said. "Sell some weed."

"Nobody's buying," Phug said. Around these parts, people were either farmers or they raised marijuana. This was a good year, and supply far exceeded demand.

Slat flipped on the TV and X-Files came up. He opened the fridge. "What's to eat?" He could eat three times what a normal person did and never gain an ounce. "Jesus! What you guys live on? Love?" He stared at empty shelves and some green, fuzzy stuff.

"What should I do?" B.M. said, "I can't find a job and Phug won't get off his ass." She had been a cashier at the Perryville A&P until Phug's car broke down. Now she was fired.

"I got a charge card," Slat said. "How about pizzas? What you want, B.M.?"

"Two large pepperonis with triple cheese," Phug said.

After the pizza delivery girl left, Slat and B.M. sat on the couch, and Phug leaned against his weight bench. They smoked joints, chugged beer, and downed pizza, and were half baked by the time Monster Trucks, starring Bigfoot, came on. The show was a rerun, so Phug fell asleep next to his beer, and Slat and B.M. made love. Everybody was happy until Dynomyte tried to outdistance Bigfoot in the long jump and crashed, jolting Phug awake. He heaved a full can of warm beer toward the gyrating couple, and it smashed against the wall above their heads. Foam shot everywhere as the can rolled behind the sofa. Laughing, Phug headed for the bathroom.

"Damn idiot," B.M. said, "I'll lose my deposit." She and Slat got dressed and slid the couch away from the wall. Dust balls had been collecting on the carpet for years. Soaked with beer, they looked like a bunch of drowned rats. While scraping the crud into a wastebasket, B.M. felt the floor sag beneath her feet, and it made popping metal sounds. Slat ripped back the carpet and exposed a two-foot square metal plate fastened to the floor.

"What’s that?" Phug said, cracking open another beer. B.M. rooted through her silverware drawer for a Phillips screwdriver, and Slat removed a dozen or so screws. Underneath was a round hole, left over from the old coal fired furnace and large heating duct days. They admired shelf after shelf of expensive tools and hardware and took turns staring at the booty until Invasion of The Body Snatchers came on. Then Slat got hungry and ordered two more pizzas.

B.M., bored with that old black and white movie, started fretting again. She told Phug he'd have to move out unless he looked for work. "Okay," he said, "I'll leave in the morning." But that wasn't what she had in mind.

… At first glance, everything looked the same, exclaimed Don Siegel from the TV. It wasn't. Something evil had taken possession of the town …

Phug was the only one paying any attention. He was mesmerized by those large seedpods that replicated and replaced human beings. B.M. was worrying about what they'd eat and where they'd live. Slat was downing slice after slice of pizza.

… I want to love and be loved. I want your children. I don't want a world without love or grief or beauty. I'd rather die, Becky cried out to Miles from the speaker …

The movie ended and Slat, somewhat more alert now that he'd polished off a whole pizza, had a thought. "Hey, B.M.," he said. "Let Jurk pay his own rent and buy your groceries too. And you can get bigger clothes. You deserve ‘em."

"Shit he will," she said, cackling. "Finish your pizzas."

"Here," Slat said, handing her the other pizza box, "we got work to do."

He lowered his skinny frame partway into the hole. "I can open the back door and we can load my van two or three times. You'll live like a queen."

"You're shittier'n a duck," B.M. said. "Let's go to bed."

Phug liked the idea. "Think it'll work?"

"Hell yes," Slat said, wriggling downward. But his hips were too big and his jeans pockets snagged on the edges. He climbed back out, pulled off his boots and pants, and tried again. This time he squeezed through but lost his grip and crashed to the floor twenty-four feet below.

B.M. heard a thud and a loud moan. Then all was quiet. Sprawled on his back, he looked dead. "Slat," she screamed, "you okay?" He didn't say anything.

"Phug, do something."

"What the hell can I do? The damn door's locked."

"We gotta do something. I'll call somebody."

"Shit, and get us all in jail. Put the cover back on."

"Asshole!" Just then B.M. heard Slat groan and she rushed to the opening.

"Oh, hell," Slat howled, squirming around. "I crapped myself."

"What? You hurt, Slat?"

"Everything hurts, and there's shit everywhere."

B.M. jumped up and down, bouncing the whole apartment. "Do something, Phug!" she said.

"What? Change his diaper?" Phug leaned over the hole and yelled, "Next time, don't eat so much pizza."

She watched Slat struggle up in the store's faint light. "I gotta find the can," he said.

"Don't get lost," B.M. said, concerned for his safety.

"Lost?" Phug said, howling.

A few minutes later Slat was back. "Shit's on everything. Jurk's gonna be pissed." Phug was laughing so hard he couldn't get his breath, and B.M. was clamping her hands over her mouth. Then she exploded. After composing herself she tossed down his jeans and shoes and watched as Slat slipped them up over his bare butt and zip- "Jesus Christ!" he said, moaning.

"Slat!" B.M. screamed. "What happened?"

"I zipped my wanger."

"Quit screwin’ around and unlock the damn door," Phug said.

Slat slipped his shoes on and disappeared. "Let's go help him load," B.M. said. But before she could get to the door, Slat yelled again. She rushed back to the hole. "What happened, Slat?"

"The damn doors won't open."

"They what?"

"They're all dead bolted and I need a key."

"I don't have one," B.M. said. Phug roared again.

She ran down the stairs and around the building, searching for an open window, anything. But all she found was nothing. The windows were all bricked up solid, and the doors felt like blocks of steel; they wouldn't even rattle when she shook their handles. Slat was trapped! B.M. sat on the back step and cried.

Slat searched high and low for a way out. In the office he found a stairway leading upward, but it ended at a bricked-in doorway. He scoured all the walls and found the same mortared-up windows. Then he entered a back room where shipments are received and unpacked. There he discovered a door behind a stack of boxes. Forcing it open, he saw steps leading into blackness. The light switch didn't work.

He ran to the shopping area and grabbed a flashlight and batteries. The beam revealed hoards of cobwebs draped from the floor joists and piles of rat droppings along the rock walls. He saw a mortared-up opening above an abandoned coal chute and several bricked-in windows. To the right of the chute stood an ancient furnace with a bunch of pipes coming out from the sides. They'd all been chopped off except the biggest one, which was about two feet in diameter and went straight into the basement wall. Maybe he could crawl out through that hole. Slat tried to knock the tube loose with a board, but it wouldn't budge.

B.M. returned to the apartment and found Phug throwing his stuff into a pile on the floor. "Let's get the hell out while there's time," he said. "I got six months left and ain't stickin’ around here."

"Damn it, Phug, what about Slat?" She started crying again as Phug yanked her clothes from the closet and threw them in heaps. "Stop it! I ain't going. Not without Slat." B.M. tried putting her stuff back, but he threatened her. She ran back to the hole and called and called, but nobody answered.

That pipe appeared to be Slat's only way out. He pried open the furnace door and panned the light around the soot-caked interior. He couldn't see much from the opening, so he crawled onto the grates, which still held clinkers and half-burned coal. Inside the firebox he found a single rectangular hole at the top, which had to be where the smoke exited. Covered in black, Slat climbed out, trying to figure out where all the pipes went. He could see that the furnace was a lot bigger than the firebox, so it must have surrounding air chambers. He checked the outside again, but couldn't find any other doors. There was no way to get inside that tube.

B.M. rushed outside to search again for an opening. Time after time she circled the building, and the only thing she found was a pit, next to the foundation, made of concrete and covered by a heavy metal grate. She returned to the back step and cried some more.

Slat ran up the steps. Maybe he could knock out the hinge pins and remove a door. But he couldn't see any hinges. Frustrated, he heaved a fifty-pound box of half-inch bolts at the rear door, and B.M. nearly wet her pants. "Slat!" she screamed, "What happened?"

They could talk to each other through the door if they stood close to it and shouted, so she told Slat what Phug was doing. "He'll hotwire it, Slat, and you know it. That's why he's on probation." But Slat said not to worry. Then he told her what he'd discovered in the basement. "There's a hole out here," B.M. said, with hope. "Maybe you can crawl out."

"I can't get in the pipe."

"Can you cut it?"

"With what?"

"Wish Dad was here, he's got tools."

"Call him," Slat said, laughing, but B.M. wasn't.

"No. Wait," she said. "I helped Dad. Check what Jurk has." She explained what he needed to look for in the rental area, thinking that a cutting torch would be better than a welder because it wouldn't need electricity.

Slat found a dolly with two large tanks attached to it and an acetylene torch with long red and black hoses, just as she'd described. A striker and goggles hung from one of the cart's handles. These things looked complicated and he was doubtful. He also borrowed two battery-operated lanterns off a store shelf and set them up in the basement. Then he wrestled the heavy contraption down the steps.

Phug was busy throwing their stuff into the back of Slat's van, and B.M. was standing next to the pit yelling at Phug and Slat when a Perry County Sheriff's car drove up, panning its light across the ruckus. The vehicle pulled into the parking lot, but the officer didn't get out. Dressed in a pressed, somewhat undersized uniform and eating a doughnut, she advised B.M. to keep her voice down or she'd disturb the neighbors. What an idiot, B.M. thought, as the woman reached for another doughnut and backed her car into the alley. A guy's loading a van at two in the morning and another's rattling around in the basement of a hardware store, and all she thinks about is doughnuts?

B.M. breathed a little easier and told Slat to keep it down. The air duct carried their voices better, so she could give him instructions. She explained how to open the gas cylinder valves, manipulate the torch levers, use the spark striker, and adjust the control knobs to get a blue flame. "Don't open the valves too far," she said.

"What?" Slat said, cranking open the valves and squeezing the levers. Gas and oxygen hissed through the nozzle as he worked the striker, but got no sparks. Several times he clicked and nothing happened.

"Don't open the valves too far," B.M. repeated, just as a giant yellow ball shot up, singeing Slat's beard and catching his long hair on fire. He dropped the contraption and pranced around, swatting out the smoking embers. Fortunately he wasn't injured, much. And with all that soot from the furnace, the flames hadn't changed his appearance, except that he smelled more like smoldering rags.

"Damn it, B.M.," Slat yelled. "This thing's dangerous. I'm burned to a crisp." He cranked the valves shut and this time cracked them open just a little as she'd instructed. Minutes later, after twiddling and fiddling, and after more instructions from B.M., the flame turned from sooty yellow to clear with a sharp blue tip in the middle. It made a roaring sound. "I got it," Slat said, sounding like a kid. "Now what?"

"Hold the blue tip against the pipe." Then she explained how the metal would turn white hot and melt through, and that he should move the tip slowly along, cutting away new material. "That's why they call it a cutting torch," she said, "and don't burn yourself, it's hot."

He started on the tube a few inches away from the basement wall, and several minutes later B.M. smelled smoke. "Hot damn!" Slat yelled. "It's making a hole." Twenty minutes later a four-foot section of pipe clanged to the floor. "Free at last!" A yellow glow from the lamps lit up the pit outside.

With the van loaded, Phug was now under the dash, hot-wiring the ignition, and B.M. was screaming at him. Slat kicked the bug screen off the opening and slid through. The pit was about five feet deep so he could move around. "He's stealing your van," she said.

"Don't worry," Slat said, pushing up on the grate. It wouldn't budge. B.M. fidgeted and watched Phug while Slat slid back inside to get the flashlight. He handed it up through the bars, and she saw that a bunch of rusty bolts were holding it down.

Phug had the engine running and was about to leave when he ran back up the steps.

Slat dragged the hoses and other equipment through the duct and started cutting the bars. By now he'd become an expert. As Phug climbed into the van, Slat called out, "Don't forget to check the gas." He chuckled and whispered to B.M., "It's way below empty. Has been for years."

Cussing, Phug yanked his junk from the van, dragging half of B.M.'s stuff with it. He twisted the rusted hatchback handle and it broke off, so he threw everything in through a side door, followed by the handle and mirror.

The torch cut through the last bar, freeing a section of grate, and Slat snaked out. Hugging B.M., he glanced toward the pit. "Thanks for the tools, Jurk." Then he yanked the jumper wire, killing the engine, and helped pile her things back in the van. He didn't hold any animosity toward Phug; given similar circumstances he might have done the same.

"Bye, Phug," B.M. said, as she and Slat headed up the steps. From the landing, they watched clouds of smoke roll from his car as the engine limped along on four or five cylinders, sometimes three. The Gremlin crept north on Highway C, its taillights fading in and out, an occasional backfire echoing off the hills. They carried the rest of B.M.'s possessions to the van, and she tossed the key through the doorway. "Up your deposit, Jurk," she said, laughing along with Slat.

* * *

A giant sun crept over the horizon, bathing Slat's old van in red as it chugged south along Highway 61 toward Jackson, Missouri. B.M.'s eyelids drooped as she sat in the passenger seat, admiring him. She'd known Slat since the day Phug's car broke down miles from nowhere. He'd just shown up, hooked on his big chain, and towed them home. And they’d never thanked him. She leaned over and brushed her fingers along his sooty temple. "Thank you, Slat," she whispered. He looked at her and smiled.

The sun was warm by the time they pulled into the I-55 Super 8 Motel. Slat registered while B.M. rooted through her mess in the back of the van and his six meager boxes. She managed to find enough. They got cleaned up and he asked if she was hungry. She was, but now all she wanted was some sleep and to feel Slat's body close to hers. He fell asleep the minute his head touched the pillow, but B.M. lay awake, thinking about her wasted life and what could have been. She slid her arm across his chest and whispered, "I love you."

* * *

Coyotes' mournful cries, in the hills above Poughkeepsie, Arkansas, echoed among the giant spruce trees, casting ghostly moon-shadows over a small ranch house nestled on the banks of the Strawberry River, where old Duncan lay beneath the kitchen table, twitching and dreaming of days gone by, where a gray-haired woman, who much resembled Beth Marie Carson, was caught in the throes of a horrible nightmare. Lying next to her snoring husband on their sagging mattress, the woman convulsed and moaned as a rust-covered van smoked through her dream and lurched up the driveway, stopping short of a Dodge D300 with CARSON WELDING painted on the sides.

Someone was pounding on the kitchen door. Duncan raised his left eyelid and perked up his right ear. Elmer rolled over and farted, jostling the woman awake. She grabbed her bathrobe and stumbled down the hallway. The clock read 3:52 as she and Duncan stared, bleary eyed, at a strange man and a familiar face. "Woof," said Duncan, wagging his tail and jumping up to greet the best friend he'd ever known.

"Hi Mom, hi Duncan," Beth Marie said, smiling, tears streaming down her cheeks.


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