Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Honor Among Thieves (FFF #40)

After a couple weeks off, it's back to Friday Flash Fiction. I like to switch things up now and then, but Cormac provided a sentence that suits my particular sensibilities. On with the show...

Honor Among Thieves

I heard footsteps on the wet sidewalk and the sound of keys.

Jeff Frasier opened the Buick's door and slid behind the wheel. He didn't notice me in the back seat until I pulled back the hammer of my .38 and touched its barrel to his neck.

"Hello, Richie." His voice was cool as a cucumber but his eyes had that shine that comes with fear.

"Drive. And don't make any sudden moves."

He turned the key and pulled the car out into traffic. We cruised down the crowded street, the flashing enticements of the clubs had no effect on us. The sidewalks were full of respectable people having a respectable night on the town. Jeff had a room at the Hotel Carlisle to keep up his image while swindling nice old heiresses out of their late husbands' fortunes. I knew he was too vain to give up the room - even after they left me for dead.

"Where are we going?" he asked.

"You're taking me to see Velda."

"I don't know where she is."

I pushed the barrel harder into his neck. "Why don't I believe you, Jeff? You know exactly where she is. You're worried she's going to double-cross you same as you did to me."

He looked at me in the rearview. "It was her idea. Honest, Richie. You and me, we had a deal. You know my reputation. I always honor my deals."

The old canard of honor among thieves is the last refuge of the damned. Jeff didn't have an honorable bone in his body. But what he lacked in scruples he made up for in gutlessness. Stealing from old ladies is a good way to make a buck without too much confrontation. Jeff certainly helped her, but I'm sure it was Velda's idea to leave me gutshot and take my share of the jewels.

"I got a new deal for you, Jeff. We split the take 50-50 and leave Velda flapping in the breeze."

Jeff swallowed hard and stared at the road ahead. "OK, Richie. You got it."

I leaned back in the seat, but kept the gun trained on Jeff's back. I didn't trust him, but what other option did I have?

We made our way to an apartment house in the outskirts of town. The streets were deserted and Jeff parked right in front. A light burned in the second floor window.

"That's where she's staying," Jeff said. "Second floor, on the right."

"Let's go see her."

We got out of the car and walked up the front steps. I stayed behind Jeff, keeping the gun trained on him in case he decided to scram. We went in the front door and up the steps. A thick runner of red carpet muffled our footsteps. Jeff stopped at Velda's door, raised his hand to knock, and looked at me nervously.

He knocked and the door opened a crack. Jeff said, "Velda...."

I pushed him through the door and Velda stumbled backward. I closed the door behind me and trained the gun on her. She cocked an eyebrow at me and said, "Hello, Richie."

"Hello, angel."

It was a nice apartment with a large fireplace and vase-lined mantel. A curved-back sofa sat in the middle of the room on a broad Oriental rug. I could see the bedroom off to my left through the half-open door. Velda had done well for herself. She was dressed like she was about to go out. She had on a pure white v-necked dress that was loose around her calves and tightened as you got to the interesting bits.

"You're looking well, Richie. I hope there are no hard feelings from what happened before." She slinked her way over to the fireplace and laid an arm across the mantle. "A girl's gotta look out for her own interests."

"Can it, angel. That was your plan from the beginning and like a sap I fell for it. You're velvet on the outside, baby, but sandpaper on the inside."

"All's fair in love and war," she said.

I took a step toward her and said, "You're going to hand over the jewels and I'm going to walk out of here. In the interest of fairness, I'm not going to ask you to repay what you've already spent."

Jeff lunged at me and grabbed my gun with both hands. The guy had more guts than I gave him credit for. I slammed him into the wall, but his grip didn't budge. He pushed against the wall with all his strength and we rushed as one toward the sofa. We hit hip high and tumbled over the sofa onto the coffee table, smashing it to bits.

Jeff stood up, but I still had the gun in my hands. A shot rang out and Jeff collapsed in a heap. Velda held a smoking gun that she pulled from one of the vases on the mantle.

I stood up and she looked at me and said, "I was ready to split it 50-50 anyway. It doesn't matter to me if it's with him or with you."

"I fell for that one once already. Goodbye, angel."

I shot Velda.

Wiping my fingerprints from the gun, I placed it in Jeff's hand. Desperately, I searched the apartment for where Velda hid the jewels. Pavlov may have salivating dogs, but he's got nothing on police response to gunfire.

Velda kept the jewels in a box hidden in the chimney. I grabbed the box and rushed out of there. The sirens were getting awfully close as I shut the door to her apartment.

Halfway down the stairs, my shoe caught on the runner and I stumbled. Down and down I went, tumbling onto the hard wood floor at the foot of the stairs. I hit bottom with a thud and the box flew out of my hands.

The lid popped open as the box hit the floor. A fireworks display of green and red exploded in front of me.

At that moment, the door opened and a stunned policeman came in.