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Whoever said that there’s honor among thieves must have worked alone.
Scientists both cruel and curious have demonstrated that a Bulldog Ant cut in two will continue to lash out at anything nearby, including itself, the heads and bodies biting and stinging their missing halves until either death or their nest mates claim them. The crew that hit Wayne Jewellers was like that—solid planning, flawless execution, but three days in a cabin and they were at each other’s throats.
Take, for example, the way Kit Rosland drowned Teddy Wilson in the toilet. Teddy had saved their lives, darting the getaway car down side streets and arranging for the second vehicle they swapped into. Now he lay slumped into the toilet, his forehead resting in the curve of the bowl while Kit stood over him, trying to listen over the sound of her own panting breath. The other two in the crew — Henry and Matt — should be asleep, but she couldn’t be sure if they’d been drunk enough to slumber through her fight with Teddy.
She leaned on the vanity, waiting for her heart to calm and her limbs to stop shaking. When she was steadier, she washed her hands. It made her feel cleaner, even if it didn’t do anything to combat the rank smell of sweat and urine. She wondered if she should bother doing anything with the body, or if that was only postponing the inevitable. Matt and Henry would surely notice that their happy little family had been reduced by a full fourth. She decided her best bet was to get dressed fast and prepare to bolt. She exited the bathroom cautiously. There was no noise from the bedroom, the one Matt and Henry shared. Kit had let Teddy take the other bedroom. She preferred the living room couch; it was easier to monitor the comings and goings of the others, and she didn’t feel cornered the way she might in one of the bedrooms.
She didn’t like being in this situation. She might have been content to stick with the plan, to wait it out in the woods drinking beer and shooting the cans full of holes with a BB gun, but Teddy had started giving her looks. Hard looks. When the conversation in the cabin lapsed, Kit swore she could feel him — hell, she could damn near hear him looking at her. The crow’s feet around his eyes crackled like old leaves on pavement when he gave her that look, the one whose message was clear: “I want what you have.”
She’d felt that look from belligerent drunks in bars, from her classmates in university, from the bums and whores who watched her walk out of a restaurant with a stomach full of food and a wallet full of cash. It was Envy, a desire to take her and the things that belonged to her. It made her tired to see it.
When Teddy had reached the point where he was clearly ready to move on her, Kit moved first. Pretending to sleep on her couch, she waited for him to take a leak. A five-count later she was up and to the door. She hadn’t even needed to pop the lock, he’d left it not only unlocked but un-latched. Sloppy.
She could hear the tinkle of piss on porcelain, and as she slid past the door she found comfort in the heft of her makeshift blackjack: a sock full of BBs. The toilet faced outward, so Teddy’s back was to her as he relieved himself. When she hit him, Teddy’s head pitched forward and cracked into the wall. Reflexively, he covered his pecker with his hands, but that wasn’t where she was aiming. She kicked the side of his knee. Kicked hard, and he dropped. On the way down she hit him again with the blackjack. Teddy landed across the toilet, head down, not looking at her, not looking at anything.
It was a small amount of wrestling to reposition him, but Teddy wasn’t a big guy, and she got his head into the toilet without too much trouble. He’d started to kick, right at the end, but by then her back was wedged against the wall and the leverage was in her favor.
Back in the living room, she reached for her clothes, which lay across a gym bag tucked beneath the couch. There was a soft click as the other bedroom door opened. Silently she rolled onto the couch, lying still. Someone walked to the bathroom. She couldn’t see if it was Henry or Matt’s oversized frame. The light clicked on, streaming out from underneath the door. Kit tensed, ready for the yelling to start, but there was nothing. After a moment, the sink began to run.
She jumped up, considered making a break for it. Instead she stepped on the coffee table, and reached into the overhead light, loosening the bulbs. She just had time to regain her seat on the couch when the bathroom door opened, and Henry walked out. The bathroom light was still on, and he was back-lit, reducing him to just a silhouette.
“Hiya Kit.” He walked towards her, very slowly, drying his hands on a towel. “You mind if I have a sit-down?”
She said nothing. She knew there was no stopping Henry, only making things enough of a pain in the rear that he’d give up and walk away of his own accord.
Henry stepped out of the shaft of the bathroom light, sliding into the darkness with her. “I notice that Teddy had a little accident. You know anything about that?” He moved slow in the dark, his eyes not yet adjusted from the bathroom light.
She wished to hell that she’d had time to put on clothes. Yoga pants and a t-shirt seemed an awful outfit to wear for this confrontation. And if things went poorly, it would be an awful outfit to die in.
Holding the towel in his left hand, Henry reached with his right to turn on the light. The loosened bulbs didn’t respond, and he didn’t bother trying it twice. He was moving towards the recliner now, next to the couch. “I think we need to talk about how that affects the take from this job.”
He sat down in the la-z-boy, his slippered feet looking ridiculous on a dangerous man. He raised his hand, and Kit pulled away, ready to fight. But instead he reached for the lamp. Aw Hell, she thought, I forgot to take the bulb out of—
With a click the end table lamp came on. Henry looked at her, wearing that little smile that annoyed her so much. The one that looked like he practiced it in the mirror. He didn’t move, one hand on the lamp, the other holding the towel on his lap, light blue with dark crimson stains on it. He didn’t look away from her eyes. “It’s a pretty healthy take, when split two ways, don’t you think?”
“And Matt?” she asked. Her southern Ohio accent stretched the syllables like honey on a hot day.
“Yeah… Matt’s not going to be playing with us anymore.” He withdrew his hand from the lamp, slowly. He was trying not to spook her. “And I think the same’s true of Teddy, right?”
“I s’pose he kinda had it coming. And Matt… well, Matt was always sort of the weakest link, don’t you think?”
Henry always did that— end sentences with a question. It was something he’d picked up from some sales infomercial. But in this case he was right. Kit shrugged an assent. “He probably would’ve talked sooner or later.”
“Well, then I’m glad that we could establish a base line for our negotiations.”
She looked at Henry, studied his face, the line of his lips, tried to see past his friendly poker face to the shark beneath.
“Yeah, negotiations,” he said. “We already agree that we’re the two who should get the profits from this job. Now we just have to decide how we’ll split them up.”
“Isn’t that a little cold?”
“You just drowned a man in his own piss.”
“Fine. 50/50. We go our own ways.”
“80/20 and I take the car.”
“You can’t leave me without a car. What am I supposed to do, hitch a ride with that old couple in their RV?” She pointed to the west, towards the only nearby cabin.
“It’s a favor to you. Cops’ll be looking for it.”
“No, they won’t.”
“Yes, they will.” His voice was grew sharper at being contradicted. “Any car lifted in the last week is going to be flagged once they find our ditched getaway.” He shrugged in a what-can-you-do fashion. “That thing’s a liability.”
“The car we’re in was picked up months ago and has clean plates. Teddy was smarter than that.”
“If he was all that smart he’d still be alive, right?”
“He was smart about cars. Not about staying alive.”
“You’re smart about security.” He didn’t ask if she was smart enough to stay alive.
Kit was tensing, ready to run or pounce. She felt naked and wished again that she’d had time to get dressed. She wondered how much of Henry was fat and how much was muscle, wondered if she could wrap the cord of the table lamp around his thick throat.
Her nerves must have shown, because Henry softened his voice, took the edge out of it. Kit thought it made him seem even more like a snake about to strike. “I ran the show,” he said, “and you took out the alarm system. You deserve a cut. The other two? Muscle and drivers we could have picked up anywhere.”
She turned her head away, but kept him in the edge of her vision. “You going to do anything to clean up this place?”
“Nah, no point.”
“We could take the bodies to the woods, give us a couple days, maybe.”
“Why bother? We leave here two days before the rental is up, it’s the same effect. You need to think further into the game, Kit.” He was still covering the towel with his left hand, fingering the fringe at its end.
She nodded, trying to appear reasonable. “60/40. It was your plan, you deserve a majority cut.”
“Yes, I do,” he said. “75/25. You keep your full original share and walk out of here alive.”
“Sure you could take me?” She cocked her jaw, just slightly, but it was a challenge.
“Sure enough that I didn’t bother to stick you yet.” Henry shifted his left hand, revealing the long and ugly knife wrapped in the towel.
Kit stared at it, at the coagulating blood which hadn’t quite rinsed off the blade. When she spoke her voice was cold. “You planned this the whole time.”
“Teddy was self-defense.” Her voice rose.
“Looked to me like you hit him from behind while he was taking a whiz.”
“He was getting squirrelly on me.”
Now that the knife was out in the open, Henry played with it while they talked. He watched her eyes track it for a while, then set it down on the arm of the chair. She got the message: he was so confident, he didn’t need the knife. He just didn’t want her to forget he had it, either.
“25 percent of this take’s a good cut.”
“Make it 30.”
He started to respond, but she cut him off. “The extra 5 is for taking care of Teddy.”
Henry stared at her, round cheeks obscuring his dark eyes. She knew he was doing math, figuring just how much trouble she was worth. Going in her favor was the fact that Henry wasn’t really a fighter. She’d been surprised that it had been him to come out of that bedroom. He must have gotten Matt drunker than she thought. Finally, just as she began to think that he was going to come after her anyway, he gave in.
“Fine,” he said, “70/30. I’ll take the car.” He stood up, finished with her.
“It’s a liability.”
“You convinced me otherwise.” He kept facing her as he walked to the closet where the stash was secured. He may have won, but he clearly wasn’t going to turn his back to her. “And even if it is,” he said, opening the closet, “don’t you think—“ He cut off, must have seen movement or heard the ‘click’ as the closet door opened, but still the shotgun blast caught him under the jaw and there wasn’t much left of Henry after that. Kit had spent some time positioning the shotgun at just the right angle, its stock wedged into the corner with the luggage stand and a simple pulley switch connecting the trigger to the closet doorknob.
She reached under the couch and pulled out her travel bag. All evidence of a fourth person, and certainly any sign of a female, had already been picked clean from the cabin. The security tapes at the jewelry store showed two men, and the cops knew there was a driver, but no one had seen her. At the cabin she’d been especially careful not to be seen by their only neighbors, the elderly couple with the RV. She stepped lightly over Henry’s body as she retrieved the satchel with its glittery, precious contents. The police would find two murdered crooks, and another caught in one of his dead partners’ traps, their car sitting in the driveway. The cops would assume that no diamonds meant that they’d been stashed somewhere else before hiding out. Just another heist that would never be solved.
She was out the door, and across the field towards the older couple’s cabin. She knew that there was a spot behind the AC roof unit on the RV where the couple had a tarped-over equipment bag, for bikes or backpacks or whatever. She could fit under there, long enough at least for them to get to another truck stop, another campground. From there she’d hitchhike, or carjack someone. Whatever it took to make it clear, Kit knew she could do it.
Because she was alive. And because nobody thought further into the game than she did.
Dan Stout lives in Columbus, Ohio where he writes about the things which terrify and inspire him. His fiction draws on his travels throughout Europe, Asia, and the Pacific Rim, as well as an employment history which spans everything from subpoena server to assistant well driller. In his free time, he tries to convince himself that time spent playing match-3 games is somehow educational.