LATE START - ERIC BEETNER
Henry had never stolen a thing in his previous 87 years, but there was another package on the reception desk. Assisted living, my ass, he thought. Time to start doing some living for myself.
Every month that sonofabitch Leonard got a package from his kids. Cookies, usually. And that daughter-in-law was one hell of a cook. Henry’s total mail haul in the past nine years? Zero.
Leonard liked to spread his treats around, seem generous. Really he was rubbing it in that his kids gave a shit.
Sure, gave a shit enough to lock you in this prison with rubber sheets. Cocky bastard. Fuck him.
Reception was unmanned by any Care Technicians™, as they were called in the brochure. Glorified janitors is what they were. Emptying trash cans or removing yet another body after a resident croaked was the same to them.
Henry limped forward on his cane, his neck straining to check the hallways for witnesses, pulse quickening at the thought of committing a crime. He’d get that package to his room and wolf down all two dozen cookies before anyone realized it was gone. He hoped like hell they were oatmeal chocolate chip.
He heard Lonnie’s wet cough first. She’d been hacking out bits of her lung for over four years now with no break. Didn’t even care to cover her mouth or spit into a tissue anymore. You’d hear the creak of her walker, the skid of those cut-in-half tennis balls on the base, the thick splat of bloody mucus hitting the linoleum floor and you’d know who was coming.
Henry watched her approach. Slow as tar and she smelled worse. At her pace his window of opportunity was closing – fast. As decrepit as she had become, Lonnie probably wouldn’t even notice him snatch the package. Maybe he could cut her in for a half dozen. Nah, fuck it.
Lonnie hacked, spit and kept on walking. The gob of wobbly phlegm flattened across the floor like a squashed slug. Henry almost lost his appetite, but then realized stealing the package wasn’t about the cookies anymore.
Just like that, he crossed over. He became a criminal. The crime was the thing. The doing, not the reward. He liked the feeling even better than his afternoon pills.
Nilda came out of the back room, laughing. Her white uniform splotchy with stains, her teeth yellow with nicotine. Damn girl doesn’t give a shit about anyone in here. Doubt she even knows anyone’s name, Henry thought.
When Nilda saw Henry wobbling forward on his cane her smile faded away. She avoided his eyes and sat down, pretending to work.
The appeal of that package became greater than ever. It wasn’t just a snatch and go. He had to figure out how to pull off this caper.
Lonnie coughed. Henry smiled.
He turned to his right, took two shuffling steps forward to pass Lonnie, neither one acknowledging the other. When he was beside her, he flipped his cane down to the floor, hooked the hand grip around her ankle.
She went down.
A weak yell was cut off by her face hitting the floor. The slap of her flesh against linoleum was sharp, immediately followed by a loud hack and a flying clot of blood and some other substance from deep within her chest that splattered on the floor in front of her like spray from a gunshot wound.
Nilda leapt from her chair, one of the other Care Technicians™ came sprinting from behind the desk. Henry slipped the package up under his arm and limped off to his room.
Yeah, he thought, I could get used to a life of crime.
BIO: Eric Beetner is the co-author of the novel One Too Many Blows To The Head, along with JB Kohl. The select few who have read it say it is really good. His short stories are all over the web in various crime fiction zines. More novels have been completed and are searching for a home like a three-legged dog on the side of the highway at rush hour. He could never write anything as twisted as Jason Duke but he welcomes the opportunity.
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