Will's aunt wants him to spend some time with his estranged son at Christmas. All Will wants is to knock off his girlfriend's husband and collect a share of the life insurance policy. Unfortunately, when you fail to take into account all the angles, the perfect crime can really ruin your holiday. A short story from our Fingerprints line.
Nobody’s ever called me dumb. Unlucky, sure—I’ve been unlucky twice, which is how I ended up doing those two stretches in the state pen. Since I got out, I’ve been real careful, even more careful than before. See, I figured it out—there are two parts to being smart. One part is being sharp enough to spot the opportunities when they come. And the other part is not acting on any opportunity, no matter how good it looks, till you find a way to make it completely safe.
Carol was the opportunity, the best opportunity I’d come across in a long time. And then Aunt Valerie showed me how to make it completely safe.
About a week before Christmas, I went to Aunt Valerie’s house for dinner—not exactly my idea of a good time, but I’ve been broke enough to take a free meal just about anywhere I can find it. Plus, when I go over there, I can usually sweet-talk Aunt Valerie out of fifty bucks or so. Maybe I should feel guilty about that—widow, fixed income, diabetes, varicose veins, swollen ankles, the whole deal—but by the time dinner’s over, I always feel like I’ve pretty much earned the money, just by putting up with her crap.
“They’re in here,” she said, leading the way to the musty, closet-sized room she calls her study. She opened the top drawer in the battered roll-top desk. “I knew you’d like that Christmas card, Will. When I saw it in the store, it looked so perfect for Kevin that I just had to get it. And I know I’ve got stamps here somewhere.”
Bored, I glanced over her shoulder and checked out the drawer. That’s when I spotted it. It was almost hidden beneath the clutter of pencils and coupons and rubber bands, and it was the last thing I’d expect to see in Aunt Valerie’s house.
“Where did that come from?” I asked, pointing.
She looked down, blushed, and laughed. “Oh, that. Your uncle bought it not long before he passed away. A burglar broke into a house down the street, and Harry decided we needed protection. We never used it—poor Harry got sick before he could even try firing it. I’d just throw the silly thing away, but I’m afraid it might fall into the wrong hands. Oh, good—stamps. Now, you should address the envelope yourself, so Kevin can see the card’s from you. Don’t you think that’s a good idea?”
“You bet,” I said, though at this point I’m sure my kid wouldn’t recognize my handwriting. Hell, I’m pretty sure he wouldn’t recognize me, and I’m not all that sure I’d recognize him. But you can’t say things like that to Aunt Valerie. Besides, my mind was zooming around, sizing up the odds, shooting through all the angles. “You know, I could use some more coffee,” I said, “and maybe another slice of that great apple pie. You mind if I stay here while you fix it? I wanna take a few minutes to think of something nice to write on the card—you’re a great kid, I miss you, season’s greetings, like that.”
She beamed at me like I’d sprouted a halo. “It’s peach pie, dear. But of course you may have all you want, and all the time you want, too. I’m sure it’s very important to you to find exactly the right words. Just come join me in the kitchen when you’re ready. And you will see Kevin on Christmas, won’t you?”
I tried for a long face. “Don’t know if I can. Wish I could—nothing would make me happier. But my ex won’t like it if I show up on a holiday. And Christmas—Kevin would expect a present, and I’m pretty hard up.”
I’d hoped that would make her come across with some cash, but she just sighed and waddled off. I hardly cared. As soon as she was gone, I pocketed the gun. Whenever Carol and I had talked things over, that was the one thing I’d insisted on—an untraceable gun. When I did my last stretch, I talked to a lot of guys who’d thought they’d be safe enough if they threw the gun in a trash can. Dumb. The damn gun always turned up again, and the cops always found a way to connect it to the guy who’d dumped it. But this gun—bought almost twenty years ago, never fired, buried in a harmless old lady’s desk. Perfect. All I’d have to do would be to find an excuse to visit Aunt Valerie after the job and slip the gun back in place.