Bedtime Stories Crime Short Fiction By Andrew Robinson

Bedtime Stories: Crime Short Fiction By Andrew Robinson

Andrew Robinson, author of “Bedtime Stories”, has previously published short fiction in Everyday Fiction and in Mystery Tribune (Flowers for You under the name Andrew Hart).

*****

He crept up the front lawn, a smile on his face. Around him were the telltale signs of a precious suburbia, with shrubbery shrouded in shadow and trimmed hedges. There was even a silent garden gnome which matched his smile with one of its own. The lawn itself was so well manicured that it made him sick. That was okay. He would feel better soon.

He approached the front door of the house, producing his picks and going to work on the lock which sprung open within the minute. He pushed the door open and stepped inside.

He walked through the living room and into the kitchen with a spring in his step and took a look around. Everything in its proper place. He’d fix that soon enough. He popped a cabinet open and got out a plate and then went to the fridge and found some jam. A jar of peanut butter from the pantry followed and after that, two slices of bread. For him, it was a ritual of sorts that he always performed before a job. Make a sandwich in a home that wasn’t yours and then rob it blind.

Everything in its proper place. He’d fix that soon enough.

Just as he was putting the finishing touches on his creation, he heard the sound of footsteps from behind. With fear in his heart, he turned to see a child of no more than ten staring back at him with wide solemn eyes, her dark hair done in pigtails and with a plush teddy in her right hand and a hardback kid’s book in the other. There was no car out front and his source who had tipped him off to the job had never said anything about a child.

He felt his fear calm in the face of the small girl in front of him. No doubt she’d been left home alone. She was just a child and he was good with kids.

“Well, hello there,” he said. He stretched his mouth into a smile.

“Hello,” said the girl. She didn’t move or make a face. She just stared which made him a bit uncomfortable.

“Look, I’m a friend of your fa—”

“No, you’re not.”

He felt his heart beat. “Of course I am.”

“Nope. My daddy doesn’t have any friends.”

“Well, how do you know?” he said and tried to keep the snarl out of his voice as he said it.

“Your name?”

“What?”

She sighed like there was something wrong with him. “What’s your name?”

“Jack. Jack Clive.” It was a fake name. But the fact that he had to give it at all, irritated him.

“Well, Mr. Clive,” she said, her voice appropriately respectful which if he were being honest, he appreciated, “I think we should talk.” She took a seat on the chair at the kitchen table so she was facing him and she put her hands out in front of her and folded them together. He bit his lip and wondered if he should even bother staying. He could just walk out the front door right now. But, she was just a child. And he needed the money. Besides, worst came to worst, he could tie her up. He wouldn’t like it, but this was a livelihood and no child too smart for their own good was going to stand in the way of that.

“Sure, why not?”

“I’m glad you’re amenable.”

He laughed. “You mean amenable. It’s an ‘N’ not an ‘M’ in the middle.”

“That’s what I said.” She gave him a brief look of annoyance. “So, you’re here to rob us, aren’t you?”

Not a touch of fear in her. It convinced him that he shouldn’t even bother with a lie. Besides, she’d already proven that she would see straight through it. “That’s right.”

She nodded like it was all quite sensible. “Why?”

He blinked. “What do you mean why?”

“Why are you doing it?”

“Because I can.”

“That’s not an answer.”

“Fine. Because I want to.”

Her mouth twitched like she wanted to smile. “That’s better.”

“What’s your dad do for a living?”

“He’s an accountant.”

“I’m sorry. Must be tough having an accountant for a father.”

She rolled her eyes. “You have no idea.”

“But that’s your dad’s job, right? He’s gotta do it. My job is to steal. So yeah, I want to. But I also have to. It’s how I make my living.” He said it with a note of pride in his voice. He loved his job. Always had. And hey, it was certainly better than being an accountant.

“I see.”

Watching her now, a thought occurred to him. “Your father isn’t home much, is he?”

She shook her head.

“That’s a pity. You know my father was never home much either.” Hard to be at home when you were in a jail cell half the time.

“That why you ended up like this?”

“Maybe so. You know, since you also have a father that isn’t here, maybe you’ll grow up to be like me.”

She pursed her lips and then shook her head again. “No. I don’t think so.”

“Yeah, why’s that?”

“Because I’m smarter than you are.”

He couldn’t help but smile. “But you know, it’s not always a choice. Sometimes people end up in lives they don’t want and it’s not their fault. Sometimes there’s only so much someone can do with what they’re given.”

“I know. That’s why I feel sorry for you.”

He tried not to laugh. This kid was almost too much, but he was enjoying himself. “Okay, look. Here’s what’s gonna happen. I’m gonna rob this place. Then I’m gonna leave and you’ll call the cops. But while I’m in the middle of doing what I do, you’re going to sit right there and stay quiet. Okay?” Of course he left out the part where he’d have to tie her up. The thought of it made him ill. He wasn’t someone who liked using force to get what he wanted, especially when it concerned a child.

He tried not to laugh. This kid was almost too much, but he was enjoying himself.

“I wouldn’t call the police.”

“Yeah?”

“I’d just shoot you.”

“Would you?” The thought of this girl trying to hold a gun lent him a smile. She could do it, but he doubted she could handle the kick. It’d jump right out of her hands.

“You know, you’d make a good partner. You could follow me around to jobs and help me out.”

She narrowed her eyes at him like she was considering it. “What would that involve?”

“You see those small hands you got there? Yeah, the ones with the tiny fingers attached to them. They’d be perfect for picking the locks on jewelry boxes of sad housewives.”

“You like stealing from sad people?”

“I steal from all types of people. Sad, happy, stupid, wise, it’s all the same.” What mattered was what they had, not who they were. That’s what he had always told himself.

“You’re a real peach, you know that?” She said it with the raise of an eyebrow and a look that he was surprised could be so contemptuous on such a young face.

“I suppose I am.” As fun as this back and forth was, his patience had exhausted itself and so he took a step towards her. As soon as he did, she got off her chair and slunk back, her eyes not fearful, but still mistrusting.

“Not a step closer,” she said, her mouth set in a grim determined line.

He held up his hands. “Look, I have to tie you up, okay? I don’t really have a choice.”

“Why’s that?”

“Well, if I just leave you here, first chance you get you’ll call the police.”

“I already said I wouldn’t do that.”

“Or run and tell a neighbor.”

“Wouldn’t do that either. I don’t need to.” She paused like she was considering something. “I’ll help you though.”

“You’ll what?”

“I said I’ll help you.”

He squinted at her, trying to figure her out. “Why would you do that?’

“Because my dad’s never here.”

“And this is your way of getting back at him?”

She pointed a small finger at him and mimed a gun going off. “Bingo.”

Did he believe her? He let silence fill the room while he thought the situation over.

“What’s the hold up?” said the girl.

“Give me a moment. I need to think things through.” She shrugged her shoulders and crossed her arms while looking impatient.

In a way, he supposed it made sense. Most people hated their fathers, right? He had anyway. Of course, there was always the chance she could be lying, which was why he was going to keep her close. He’d keep her out in front, leading him through the house and if she tried anything he would resort to the original plan of tying her up and doing it on his own. Yeah, this could work, he thought.

“Okay kid. You’ve convinced me. How about you show me where the good stuff is?” He gave her a crooked grin that was almost feral and she returned it with a small smile of her own, innocent and unassuming.

“Sure.” She beckoned him with the hand holding the teddy and he followed her out of the kitchen and down the hallway, but not before he took his already made sandwich with him.

“You could have offered it to me, since I’m being so nice,” she said, turning to look at him.

“You show me where the goods are, I’ll make you whatever you want. How do you like it?”

“Pb and j. Lots of peanut butter, lots of jam and leave the crusts on,” she said and pointed a finger in an almost accusatory fashion.

“Alright, alright. Crusts on.”

She brought him to a room with a high ceiling and a low hanging chandelier. There was a bed in the middle of it that looked like it could fit three people and still have room for a few hanging off the sides. On the night stand was an ornate looking vase and a nearby shelf held an array of pricey looking objects that looked like they had been acquired in many different foreign locales. They paid him well, this accountant.

“Now we’re talking,” he said and had to resist the temptation to rub his hands together.

“Back here,” she said and took him past the bed and around a corner which lapsed into a closet.

“There’s a jewelry box at the back.”

“Thought he wasn’t married.”

“It’s for his girlfriend.” Her mouth crinkled in distaste.

“Girlfriend, huh?”

“I don’t like her. She wears too much perfume and calls me sweetie. And she always cuts the crusts off even when I ask her not to.”

“Sounds like a real monster. What about your mother?”

“I see her every couple of weeks.” There was no sadness or regret in her eyes as she talked and he figured that she had the kind of acceptance that had been won over time.

“She treat you okay?”

“My mother or the girlfriend?”

“Both.”

“My mom always does. The girlfriend does too I guess. I just don’t like her.”

“I don’t blame you.” He didn’t. When he was growing up his father had brought women home too. They’d smell of liquor, hair polish and perfume. They were the type to only look at him once when they entered the room and then never again. So, he understood.

“It’s at the back if you want it.”

Back to the job. He needed to stay focused. “Go get it then.”

“Why not you?” She said.

“And leave you watching my back?”

“You don’t trust me?”

“I trust you as much as you trust me.”

“I can see why you want me to get it then.”

He grinned. Talking to her, he could see the appeal in kids. He didn’t want any of course. But he could see the appeal.

“Go on now,” he said and gestured towards the end of the closet which was shrouded in darkness. She went forward. When she reached the end of it, her hands could be seen moving in the dark and he had the premonition born of instinct that he had made a mistake and surely enough he was proven right when she turned back around, a gun two sizes too big for her gripped firmly in her small hands. The teddy and the book were lying on the floor where she had dropped them.

He had neglected to bring his own gun, thinking that it was better to leave it and the possibility for another potential felony back at home. Besides, he wouldn’t have pulled it even if he did. She was a child after all and he reckoned that given the determined look in her eyes, she would put one through him if she needed too. He raised his hands, almost as if he was giving her a salute. His partially eaten sandwich slipped from his fingers and fell to the floor.

“Easy, okay?”

“I’m just fine.” She cocked her head like she was sizing him up, waiting for him to do something stupid.

“You held a gun on someone before?”

“Nope.”

“You must be scared.”

“Not as scared as you I imagine.”

She had a point. “So, what now?”

“Now you start walking.” He did as he was told, making his way back out of the closet and through the bedroom and out into the hallway. After that, she walked him back down to the door he had come in from and then back into the cold night air. As soon as they got outside, he knew what he was going to do.

He ran.

The gun went off before he had made it two steps. He felt himself fall and hit the ground, pain thundering in his side. He watched as his blood spread into the fresh, well clipped lawn and he had the brief and pleasant thought that he was ruining someone’s hard work.

“I’m sorry,” came a small but calm voice. He looked up at the girl. She was no longer holding the gun which now lay several feet away. Just like he had thought, it had kicked out of her hands. Or maybe she had dropped it. Either way, she had pulled the trigger. Despite the steadiness of her voice, he could see her hands shaking.

“You shot me. You little b—” He stopped himself. She was a child. He shouldn’t say that. Instead, he took a deep, shuddering breath and said, “It’s okay.”

She nodded and for the first time that night he could see that she looked scared. He felt sorry for her and without thinking, he reached out a hand which she grabbed with her smaller one.

“Guess I can’t make you that sandwich now.”

She swallowed and nodded.

“Why’d you shoot?”

“I don’t know. I guess I didn’t want you to get away.”

“Did it for dear old dad, huh?”

She gave him a look full of sorrow. “Why’d you run?”

“Didn’t want to be caught. Like I said, it’s my job.”

“Might be time to find a new one.”

“Maybe.” He closed his eyes for a moment, his breath coming shallow. “You know, I guess you aren’t like me. I’ve never shot anyone.” It was true. He hadn’t. Even so, he felt a sliver of guilt for saying it. Strangely enough, he didn’t want to make her feel bad about the whole thing.

She was silent for a while and then she said, “I’ll be right back.” She let go of his hand and left him there and went back inside.

He looked up at the stars, still burning bright but looking dimmer with each moment passed. He wished that he had just tied her up and went through the house on his own. But she had only been a child and he hadn’t wanted to hurt her. Now here he was bleeding out on the ground. He laughed and then wished he hadn’t as pain shadowed his laughter.

A few minutes later, she was back. She had the teddy and the kid’s book back in her hands. She sat down next to him and placed the bear next to his open wound, pressing it against his side so the flow of blood was stopped.

“Thanks,” he whispered, the pain stealing his voice. “Been meaning to ask you.”

“Yeah?”

“Aren’t you a little old to be playing with a teddy?”

“Aren’t you a little old to be robbing people’s houses?”

He gave her a weak smile. “Fair point.”

“I called the police,” she said.

“Thought you said you wouldn’t do that.”

“I lied.”

“Of course you did.”

“Daddy always said to shoot first and call later.”

“Your daddy is a real bastard, you know that?”

“I know.”

“Hey, I get it. So was mine.” She stared at him, her eyes wide and unblinking. He couldn’t tell what she was thinking. After a moment of silence, she opened the book.

“What are you doing?”

“Reading you a story.”

He wanted to laugh and cry at the same time. “Go on then.”

“Before I do, I need to know. What’s your name? I know it’s not Jack Clive.”

“Smarter than you look. It’s Jasper Cook.” And so it was. “Yours?” he said in a hoarse whisper.

“Marigold Walker. But I go by Mari.”

All he could do was nod. Words were beyond him now.

Mari began to read. “Once upon a time…..”

With each word spoken, she sounded like she was trying to hold the world together.

There beneath the stars and in the quiet night, Jasper listened. Not for sirens that were sure to come, but for a bedtime story.

After all, he wanted to know what happened next.

*****

If you’ve enjoyed “Bedtime Stories”, you can visit our free digital archive of flash fiction here. Additionally, premium short fiction published by Mystery Tribune on a quarterly basis is available digitally here.

For online archive of short fiction (longer pieces) on Mystery Tribune website, you can visit here.

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