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“Dude’s 95, it’s an in and out job. Take him out with a pillow to the face, get the code off his dog tags, flip over the bed, crack the safe, grab the bank and fly the coop. Just make sure you got that second skin.”
Second skin, as in gloves, as in no prints, no hiccups, no problems. This was the last conversation Keith had had with Jay, the urban mastermind, the burglary broker, his network of hustlers being everyone from file clerks at police stations to rent-a-maids in their Pine-Sol wagons, the latter of which had assured Jay that the ol’ man was a heavy sleeper, had no alarm systems and lived all by his lonesome.
The cleaning crew had been servicing his house every week for three months now. Enough time to get in close enough to know every square foot of the residence, to earn the trust of the ol’ man, to understand his riddles enough to put two and two together, that dog tag that never came off his neck holding the code to the bank beneath his bed. Life savings a ninety-five-year-old had no real use for, there for the taking.
Keith slowly penetrated the doorknob to the back door with a copy of the key he had been given, turned it and slowly pushed forward.
One more quick glance around the outside and he entered, stepping in, taking in the scene before him and closing the door behind him, all with the caution of a seasoned pro.
With mental map he knew where to take his soft steps, the closer he got to the ol’ man’s bedroom the louder the deep snoring became.
The house decor was typical of someone living out their final years. From the faded furniture to the big old TV console, Keith hadn’t even been born yet when these things had been displayed in storefront windows, which was saying a lot since he was now pushing 40. Less than half the ol’ man’s 95 years but still too ripe for this line of work. Precisely why he was given the “easy” jobs nowadays. Dirty deeds he was looking to retire from, this one hopefully being his last. After all, he had kids he wanted to get to know. Life he wanted to get to know. The kind of existence that didn’t involve crapshoots, losing rolls meaning another walk down penitentiary row.
The hall was long but the carpet was thick, no surprising creeks as an ol’ wall clock ticked the seconds away. Seconds Keith used to fish out of his pocket a palm-sized flashlight while passing framed paintings of a Norman Rockwell type of past.
The ol’ man’s bedroom door was cracked open, snoring still deep and loud, small lamp already turned on.
Along with the loot and endless shit he had taken over the years Keith had begun to steal lives about a dozen years ago, the dark title of murder added to his resume coming with relative ease after the first few. And so his pulse remained steady as he took his time approaching ol’ man’s bed, the first thing to catch his eye being the framed Ol’ Glory above the headboard.
It came as no surprise the flag was aged, stars and stripes having long lost their bright colors. But what did demand a second look was the tattered edges, the smudged dirt here and there, the stain of red. Blood red?
Keith had yet to lay eyes on the ol’ man’s face for he was turned over, the back of his head a thick carpet of white. This image of the two –ol’ Glory and Ol’ man- brought an echo from Keith’s past to the forefront of his mind.
That’s what his History teacher back in high school had called those who had fought in World War II.
Is this ol’ dude a veteran?
A turn of the head was all that was needed to answer his thought, for atop the surrounding dressers sat a montage of personal history. Black and white photos of soldiers, many of which had the same guy as in an ol’ framed newspaper clipping, headline reading, HOMETOWN HERO RETURNS FROM GERMANY AFTER SAVING ENTIRE SQUAD.
Dawson. Same last name inscribed on an ol’ nametag, undoubtedly the same last name Keith would find etched into those dog tags around the ol’ man’s neck.
So this was who he was about to take out. A war hero from the greatest generation.
If it wasn’t for men like this we wouldn’t be living freely today echoed the voice of Keith’s History teacher. We’d be led by Hitler, and many of you wouldn’t even be alive today simply because of your skin color.
Keith had never been proud of his line of work but always justified it as a way to provide for those kids he didn’t know that well, lack of opportunity forcing him into this life of crime. Slingin’ burgers, diggin’ ditches, layin’ cement. Why sell yourself in slave labor when grab and dash was so much more lucrative?
But this was unexpected. A whole life of selflessness laying out here right in front of him. A life that had saved other lives. A life that had helped this greatest country in the world become so.
Who am I to take it away?
NOBODY shouted that little ounce of decency Keith still had within him, looking down at an ol’ green helmet which had been grazed a few times by enemy bullets.
As he ran a fingertip over the ridges of warfare he knew that by not following through on this easy kill he’d be signing his own death certificate, Jay probably putting a hit out on him by this time tomorrow, if not sooner.
But even worse would be Keith’s eventual obituary.
Good for nothin’ low life scum, taken the life of a life that had survived the horrors of war, makin’ his street hustlin’ lookin’ like nothin’ but child’s play.
No, he wouldn’t do it. After tippin’ off the cops to make sure no one else would strike this war hero he’d go out blazin’, partyin’ like it was 1999 until Jay’s thugs came for him, takin’ out as many as he can and goin’ out like Scarface.
And so it would be, Keith leaving the bedroom just as quietly as he had entered, respectfully locking the back door behind him and leaving Lieutenant Dawson in peace.