The Caper

Mario peeled off some cash from a thick wad of notes in his pocket and slapped them into my palm.

I parked the car underneath the pine trees. Mario was beside me, David in the back. The street was calm, it was just after Christmastime, a dusting of snow on the lawns, an occasional blinking of lights overhead as jets circled the airport nearby.

We waited. No cars approached. Mario’s uncle told him, these people across the way, and the family next door in the yellow ranch, they went off together on a cruise ship, they won’t be back until New Year’s.

“A sure thing,” Mario said.

“Nah,” David said.

“Trust me,” Mario said.

“Nah,” David said. “Let’s use the pay phone.”

So we walked to Main Street and called the homes. No answer.

“Now,” said Mario.

I waited in the car and studied the illuminated numbers on my watch.

Soon Mario appeared with a pillow sack flung over his shoulder like Santa Claus, David lumbering behind him like a jolly elf. They had knitted caps pulled down over their ears and foreheads, and dark Navy pea coats, collars turned up against the cold. I drove us to Mario’s house.

The harsh lights of the kitchen greeted us as Mario dumped the loot on the table, grabbed a trash bag and selected the costume jewelry for disposal. There were gold chains, pearls, too, some cash in small bills, a piggy bank he smashed open with a hammer, and a pair of diamond cuff links.

“Not a bad haul,” Mario said.

He poured some anisette.

“Stop by the shop next week,” Mario said, “I’ll settle up with you guys then.”

Mario worked in an auto shop that abutted the lake. You had to drive past a gate and a sign warning that a guard dog was on duty, and then wait as the buzzer sounded to gain entrance. Mario worked on cars at the backend of the shop. There were no windows, only a row of automated garage doors.

“What do you think of this baby?” Mario asked, standing beside a Mustang convertible sporting a new paint job. “Start her up, why don’t you?” he said.

I turned the key. The motor purred. I backed the Mustang out of the garage.

“It comes with this here special warranty,” Mario said. He took a medallion of St. Christopher out of his pocket and affixed it to the sun visor. “It was in the jewelry box from the other night bit I figured it belongs here now,” he said, “for good luck.”

I drove down the freeway past the refineries where the flames licked the night sky and then headed back to the garage.

“So, is it a deal?” Mario asked.

I ran my hand over the hood and down to where the fenders curved over the mag wheels and the shiny hubcaps.

“If I bring this home,” I said, “my father will kill me.”

“Do you want for me to talk to your dad?” Mario asked.

I shook my head and handed Mario the keys. He peeled off some cash from a thick wad of notes in his pocket instead and slapped them into my palm.

“Give me a call in a couple weeks,” and he grinned again, lit up a Camel cigarette, and spit a loose strand of tobacco onto the floor.

I drove back home that night past the homes we had plundered. The streets were quiet. The Big Dipper and the Little Dipper were twinkling.

**

Robert Israel is a Boston-based writer. He can be reached at risrael_97@yahoo.com

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