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Authors: Edward W Robertson

Breakers (5 page)

BOOK: Breakers
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"Vanessa?"

She lay in bed, a silent lump under the shapeless down comforter. One foot dangled off the bed's edge. Her dark hair splayed across the pillow. Walt called her name again. Beyond the windows, traffic clamored against the ceaseless rush.

5

 

"There's someone outside."

"Probably a possum." Raymond didn't open his eyes. Beside him, Mia sat up, pulling the covers away from his bare chest.

"That scraping is shoes. What kind of possums wear shoes?"

"Possum marathon runners."

"What?" She grabbed his shoulder and shook. "Go look before we got shot!"

"If I'm going to be shot, I'd rather do it in my sleep." Directly below their bedroom window, the backyard gate clicked. Raymond sat up so fast the sheet billowed around his waist. "Oh shit."

"I guess that's just a six-foot-tall possum? With hands?"

"Lock the door behind me. Call the police. I'm going to get the gun." He swung out of bed, naked except his boxer-briefs, and scrabbled through the closet for his keys. He crept into the dark hall. Mia locked the door with a metal snick. The buttons of her phone beeped softly.

Past the kitchen, he heard the low creak of the deck steps leading to the back door. The loose step near the top scraped against the stucco. Splinters snapped. Something heavy thudded to the wood. A man swore.

Raymond ran into the spare room, panic tickling his skin like hot ants. Years before his dad had left the house and their lives, the old man had kept a couple pistols stashed around the house, ostensibly to protect them from all the burglars who would rather rob a 1940s bungalow than the 4000-square-foot imitation Tuscan villa neighbors. After the death of his mom, he and Mia had moved down to a house of clutter and relics. Cleaning it out took weeks. In the drawer below the oven, hidden beneath a stack of greasy casserole dishes, Raymond had found an old six-shot Smith and Wesson revolver. His dad had brought him shooting enough times as a kid for him to know he didn't want to leave it where anyone, self included, could get to it without a hassle, and locked it in the closet of a room they always left closed.

Wise, except for the part where it was about to get him killed.

At the back door, metal skittered on metal. Raymond tried three keys before the closet's lock turned. The revolver rested in a leather holster, a stag carved on each side of the yellowed faux-ivory grip. The piece felt unnaturally heavy, old and fearsome. He thumbed open the cylinder catch. In the gloom, all six chambers were dark. Loaded. He snapped it shut and clicked back the hammer, drawing the trigger back with it.

It felt good. Solid. More real than it looked. More real than the dark house around him.

From the living room, the fish tank's filter splashed through the darkness. Raymond crouched behind the kitchen doorway, right arm leveled at the door, left hand gripping his forearm. The lock clunked, sprung. The rubber lining the door's lower edge huffed over the tight carpet his parents had inexplicably glued to the kitchen floor decades earlier. A man's silhouette filled the back door.

"Don't move," Raymond said, regretting his decision to cock the revolver early; it would have made the perfect exclamation point to his command. "I have a gun. The police are on their way."

"Bullshit," the man said. He dropped his lock pick and reached for his belt. Raymond's heart thumped. He jerked the revolver up and squeezed the trigger. His hand flew back. The boom clapped from the kitchen's tight walls. The shot chunked through the ceiling, showering the carpet with paint and plaster.

"Five left," Raymond said.

Wordlessly, the man leapt back out the way he'd come in, screen door snapping shut. Stairs rattled and thumped. Raymond shouldered the door closed. He set the lock, the bolt, and the three small hinge plates spaced between the top, middle, and bottom of the door that he'd been too lazy to bother to close since two months after moving down. The bedroom door cracked open.

"Ray? Are you all right?"

He flicked on the light, standing in the carpeted kitchen in his underwear and a grin, the heavy old S&W pointed at the ceiling. "There was a burglar!"

"Did someone get shot?"

"Just the house. Don't worry. It had it coming."

"Jesus. Jesus!" She barred her arms over her t-shirted chest. "We could have been killed. What's going
on
out there?"

"Some guy is running off to tell his friends I'm the dirtiest dude in town."

"A town with very strict gun laws."

"Right. Right." He closeted the gun, washed his hands, dressed. By the time he finished, his head was halfway back to normal. "So where the hell are the cops?"

Mia shrugged, shoulders rising under her thin white tee. "Twenty minutes, they said."

"Do they think burglars are running around with muzzle-loading muskets?
Twenty minutes
?"

"That's what they said."

Raymond's adrenaline-charged exultation slowly soured to a wearying, worrying fear. The police showed up over an hour later, an older white guy with a buzz cut and a uniform-straining gut and a tall Hispanic man about Raymond's age.

"Hi," Raymond said. "What took so long?"

The older cop made a line of his mouth. "Kid, half the town's booked it for their ranches in Montana. You're our third B&E of the night."

He had Raymond give him the rundown, then sent his partner out to the deck while he continued rehashing the details. The man's pale blue eyes settled on the fresh hole in the ceiling.

"Who fired the shot?"

Raymond nodded. "The burglar. Would-be burglar."

"He breaks in, takes a shot, and then leaves empty-handed?"

"I was yelling at him. From behind the bedroom door. I told him you guys were on the way. I don't think he expected anyone home." He gestured to the living room with the bulky old TV, the Super Nintendo, the rickety wooden chairs surrounding a scratched dining table layered with paperwork. In one corner, half-empty boxes stood stacked to shoulder height. "Anyway, you see anything worth stealing?"

The cop closed one eye, squinting at him with the other. "Lot of old stuff here. If that included an old firearm, maybe one so old everyone forgot to register it, well, the new residents might want to do something about that."

"So I'd imagine," Mia smiled. "Can I make you some coffee?"

The cop rubbed the bristle on the back of his neck. "Only if you want me to propose."

They didn't stay long, leaving Raymond with a desk number and another hardly-concealed warning about the criminal penalties for unregistered pistols. He left the porch light on as they drove away.

"Think that was a good idea? Lying to them about the gun?"

Mia frowned over her coffee. "Is it registered?"

"My mom left it under a casserole dish for fifteen years. So yeah, the registration's probably under a cookie sheet somewhere."

"They could have arrested you. Or confiscated it. Then what do we do when the next guy's breaking in and they're an hour away? Retreat to the Bat Cave?"

"Well," he said. "You know where it is. You know where the key is."

"I'm just glad you're safe."

He fell back asleep sooner than he expected, which was nice, because his cell woke him earlier than expected. "Hello?"

"Raymond? This is John. From Choi's Video."

"Hey. Hi." He sat up, rubbing sleep, heart racketing at the long-haired clerk's voice. "What's going on?"

"Just dying a little inside every time somebody rents
Transformers 2
. You?"

"The normal. Waving revolvers at criminals."

"Sure, sure." John cleared his throat. "So, look. Your interview went great. You're obviously overqualified, but that never stopped anyone else from working in a video store."

Raymond squeezed the back of his head. "But?"

"But Mr. Choi won't hire anyone without meeting them himself, and right now Mr. Choi's sick. So, I don't know. You won't starve if I can't get you in to see him until next week, will you?"

"Sure. Two weeks, though, I hope you can speak skeleton."

Raymond closed his phone and set it on the end table and picked up a glass of water. Call it two weeks until he started. Two weeks after
that
to see his first paycheck. Cutting it close (they were already eating the heels of bread, preparing dinners like spaghetti with pepper and oil, and rooting around the basement for old metal, bottles, and print they could drag down to the recycler's), but four weeks, that could work. He wandered to the living room, meaning to put on a Bourne movie or something, but Mia was tucked into the recliner, feet tucked beneath her, scrolling through the Netflix titles.

"No work today?"

"Huh uh. Between everyone getting the flu and everyone else leaving town, we've had about 75% cancellations. They're running a skeleton crew until things pick back up."

"Um," he said. "I think I'm going to go look for more jobs."

"Heard anything back from the video store?"

"Yeah, but I don't think we can count on anything right now." He showered, clothed himself, gelled his hair, laced his shoes, and still felt underdressed. He wandered into the bedroom, snagged the extra set of keys. When Mia went to the bathroom, he went to the closet, snapped open the revolver, replaced the spent casing with a heavy, blunt-headed shell, and ran it out to the glove box of his car so she wouldn't feel it in his waistband when she hugged him.

Just having it close made him feel better. It was getting strange out there. Like the old rules had begun to bend.

Traffic on the PCH was light enough for the surgeon-mask-wearing pedestrians and dogwalkers to jaywalk at will. Raymond cruised north, flashing past darkened shops with handmade signs printed on neon paper hung beside their "CLOSED" signs. Northward and inland, smoke hung over the sprawl, drifting eastward on the ocean winds. Faraway sirens burbled through his open windows. He hadn't had much luck jobhunting in the upscale, mostly residential Beach Cities, so he swung inland, where the $1.5 million imitation Spanish plantation-houses quickly faded into condos, apartments, and bungalows no bigger than his own, replaced, in turn, by warehouses and office buildings. Spotting a fish and aquarium store that didn't look too bad to clerk, he pulled into the same kind of dingy but shoppable strip mall he'd seen in every corner of the country.

From the Ralph's on the other side of the lot, a white guy rushed from the entrance, pushing his shopping cart in front of him like a game show contestant. Blue bottles gleamed and clanked from his cart. A navy-jacketed security guard raced behind him.

Raymond popped his glove compartment, stuffed the revolver under his belt, and stepped into the sunshine.

At the automatic doors, a second shopper sprinted into the parking lot. Raymond jogged forward. The guy with the liquor bottles stopped beside a pickup with rusty wheel wells, yanked down the tailgate, and got tackled to the ground by the security guard. Raymond crossed into the sweetly air conditioned store.

Cashiers continued to ring up shoppers while the shoppers watched in shock as other patrons ran down aisles flinging food into their carts. A bottle of spaghetti sauce smashed across the tile. Loose cereal crunched under shoes and rickety wheels. At the cigarette counter, a bulky manager yelled into a phone. A middle-aged woman in platforms pushed past Raymond, cart loaded with Saran Wrapped steaks.

He'd already reached his decision. The city cops were overstrained, incapable of showing up to a fucking
armed break-in
in time to do anything more than harass Raymond about an 80-year-old revolver. Around him, people screamed while others shoveled armloads of food into their carts. The scene was already far too chaotic for one security guard and one well-muscled manager to do a damn thing about. Load up, get out, drive home. In five minutes he could secure two weeks of food for himself and Mia. That would be all the cushion they'd need. Anyway, it was just one chain store. They'd be insured. And what if this was just the start of a trend? What if, by the time they could afford groceries, there weren't any left?

He grabbed a cart and jogged toward produce, loading up potatoes, bananas, bell peppers. As screams kicked up from the front of the store, he rushed down the cereal aisle, sweeping cardboard cartons into his cart, then swerved for the breakfast meats, where he pitched packages of bacon three at a time. Others clogged the aisles, ignoring each other as they snatched up frozen pizzas, 12-packs of Coke, plastic rings of peeled shrimp. Trampled bags of chips spewed greasy crumbs across the floor. In dairy, a bald man tore a half gallon of creamer from another man's hands. The victim cocked back his fist and punched the bald man into a display of taco shells.

Raymond skidded through a slick of strawberry soda, grabbing at pasta and bottles of alfredo, then swung around to the opposite aisle to top his cart with bagels and bread. It was a good thing, he reflected on his way to the doors, the chains stuck to such ironclad, marketing-bolstered floor plans; with a layout nearly identical to the Ralph's down the street from him in Redondo, he'd wasted almost no time tracking stuff down.

He flew for the doors with tight-chested glee. A faint guilt, too, but he'd hardly been the only one plunging into the chaos. And you know what? He highly doubted anyone in that store was a month away from potentially starving. They weren't taking because they
needed
it. They were taking because everyone else was and they feared there might not be anything left tomorrow. They were taking because they were scared a few old people had died barfing blood. They were taking because talking heads on NBC predicted billions of dollars could be lost to sick days, potentially cratering the recession into outright depression, while talking heads on FOX claimed the flu pandemic was directly attributable to government involvement in the American medical system.

Right then, Raymond didn't really give a shit. He just wanted to get his stuff home, stick it in the freezer, and sleep a little easier knowing that if Mr. Choi took three weeks to get back to business instead of two, he and Mia would still have something to eat.

BOOK: Breakers
9.04Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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