Fiction by Benjamin Bradley
The harsh fluorescent lights stabbed Maddox’s eyeballs. He tugged down the forest green knit cap so it blocked his eyes, but the lights bled through.
“Can you see shit through that?” Jane asked.
“Lights are gonna give me a migraine.”
“Future problems, Mad. Keep your eyes on the prize.”
Jane flicked the curtain back to cover the small rear windows of the van and slumped against the metallic interior wall. “They’re putting on their coats.”
Maddox snagged the balled-up gloves from the floor and dropped them into his pocket. Jane slid her hat over her head and pulled two pillowcases from the duffel. She handed one to Maddox but he let it linger. “Take it, asshole.”
“I can carry my haul.”
Jane exhaled. “The deal you made was that we pool it and sort it later.”
“I need cash tonight.”
“What kind of asshole needs cash on Christmas eve?”
“I’ve got a kid.”
Jane grinned, and it reminded Maddox of the way his childhood cat would look at a glass that it knocked from the countertop. “Ah, so you’re a deadbeat. Can’t even afford to get your kid a present so you gotta pull one last job and—”
Maddox looked out the window. “They’re in the car.”
Jane hit a button on her watch. “Ten minutes. Max. I hit a place in this subdivision last year and they turned up with an armful of presents and candy after twelve measly minutes. They skipped out on the full service.” Jane and Maddox stepped out of the side door just as the glow of the family car’s tail lights faded down the hill. “Gotta keep it short.”
Jane pushed open the rear gate.
“Church gives out presents now?” Maddox said. “It’s a new world. My only gift as a kid was a deck of cards and—”
Jane unlatched a window. “Boxcutter?”
Maddox handed it over. Jane sliced the screen and snaked her fingers through to open the window. How she knew the window would be unlocked was beyond him, but the less he knew, the better.
Jane popped inside and wrestled open the rear door. “A deck of cards?”
“Yeah,” Maddox said. “My father taught me a magic trick. It’s one of my only memories of the man. He disappeared the six of clubs.”
Maddox stepped inside and stared down the smiling faces of the white middle-class family pictured in the overlit portraits hung on the wall. Their matching outfits made him feel better about the break-in.
He followed the plan the best he could. Tore open presents under the tree, looking for electronics. Opened shelves and closet doors, looking for a rainy-day fund. He found three grand hidden between the pages of a run of old books that had less dust than the rest of the shelf. He heard Jane marching down the stairs, so he pocketed two grand and dropped the rest into his bag.
Jane surfaced with that damn grin again. “We should go.”
“You checked the medicine cabinets?”
“No,” he said. “That wasn’t on your list.”
“Shit. People like this, man, they’re always hooked on something. Usually the good stuff too. Be right back.”
“I thought we had to go,” Maddox said, but Jane was already back up the stairs.
He stood beside the Christmas tree and inhaled the pungent scent of the pine. The smell took him back, to watching his sister’s shocked reactions to their father’s wizardry. Where did that six of clubs go? It was magic. It was glorious. In the old memory, he heard a car door open and shut. No, wait. That wasn’t his revery. They were back. He stepped toward the window just in time to see the officers march toward the door.
He slipped open the closet door and wedged himself deep inside, behind goose down coats and snow shovels. A barrage of shouts riddled through the home. Jane, then the cops, then Jane again. Maddox closed his eyes and lingered in his only warm Christmas memory, praying that he’d somehow inherited just a bit of his father’s magic, praying that he was the six of clubs.
When silence came, he thanked his father, then stepped outside.
Benjamin Bradley is a graduate of the Gotham Writers Workshop Fiction I & II and the Red Bud Writing Project’s Advanced Fiction courses and an active member of the Mystery Writers of America. He’s the author of the Shepard & Kelly Mystery series through Indies United Publishing House and his short fiction has been published in Rural Fiction Magazine, The Serulian, and other literary magazines. By day, Benjamin coaches homelessness organizations nationally on embedding healthcare for our country’s most vulnerable populations from his home in Raleigh, North Carolina. You can learn more about Benjamin at benjaminbradleywrites.com