Steven Nester, author of Grand Theft Granny, is the longtime host of Poets of the Tabloid Murder, a mystery-fiction author interview podcast that can be heard on the Public Radio Exchange [PRX].
His fiction and non-fiction work has appeared in The Rap Sheet, January Magazine, Shotgun Honey, Yellow Mama, Mystery Scene, Plots with Guns, Down and Out, Pulp Modern, and Firsts Magazine among many others. He lives in the Berkshires of Massachusetts.
Close—but no cigar—was the story of Mitch Jagger’s life. The opportunity for him to get it right just once came when he was sentenced to five years for fraud, stealing from old ladies, to be exact. That variety of street cred would do nothing for him in the new neighborhood he was moving to; so to ready himself he pumped iron, and hired the punk down the street to ink him up.
He bought Merle Haggard’s greatest hits on vinyl, as beat-up and authentic as Merle himself, and sang along until he knew the stories as good as Merle. The $250 hair style got ditched and he manned-up his chinless face with a Charles Manson goatee. Mitch had only weeks to finish training, and while completely focused, and making progress as a hard-guy, he realized something was missing.
He possessed the expertise for crime that involved moving numbers around; the omission in his skill set was getting-your-hands-dirty crime—the running from bloodhounds and taking a hostage or two variety.
To make his bones so he could enter the joint with a semblance of outlaw dignity, he dropped the pencil and picked up a gun. Please allow me to introduce myself, he thought, aiming at his reflection in the mirror, a bandana covering his face, an open and importuning gym bag in his other hand—I’m a man of stealth and haste.
He possessed the expertise for crime that involved moving numbers around…
The crime that ka-chinged the loudest for Mitch was grand theft auto, but with no experience, he decided a chauffeur would be the way to do it, making the endeavor a carjacking—and that was even better.
The lowest hanging fruit could be found at the local Senior Citizen Center, and all it required was grabbing the granny, have her drive him around a while, maybe get her recipe for chocolate chip cookies, then get dropped off. Strapped and disguised, he hopped a bus and found the old folks home hopping with Bingo sharpies.
He prowled the lot, scrutinizing for an advantage to transform feint to felony. Alert to any late arrival to waylay, Lordy, Lordy, she pulled alongside in a brand new Camaro and asked him if he’d seen any empty spaces. “I have,” he said. “May I hop in and show you?” Mitch slid in and got a nose-full of mothballs, Aqua Net, and old age.
“There’s none anywhere,” she carped, oblivious to circumstance and unconsciously selfish; probably thinking, as the elderly sometimes did, that anyone or anything that came their way was serendipitously at their disposal because, before Mitch could show his gun, she handed him a brown paper grocery bag. “Would you mind running that inside for me, young man?” Mitch knew one good deed deserved another and said sure. “Please hurry, I have a doctor’s appointment.”
This was too good to be true, he thought, feeling a bit of remorse at taking advantage of someone’s Nana. Would it count if I kept the gun hidden and just asked for a ride home? Mitch approached the front desk and handed a receptionist the bag.
She opened it and removed a slip of paper; her smile shriveled to a pruney pucker, then she turned and lost her lunch. A man who appeared to be in charge snatched the note from her, stared at it, opened the cash register and emptied it into the bag. Mitch grabbed it and ran. He saw the old lady in the passenger seat, and he jumped behind the wheel.
“Did I just rob the Senior Center,” he said, mouth dry, barely able to speak.
“You did,” grandma said, poking a revolver into his soft belly, “Now drive.”
No one could be oblivious to the rumbling arrogance of the brand-new Camaro as Mitch tried to tip-toe it from the lot; and when he heard sirens in the distance, he put his foot into it and fish-tailed into traffic.
“Drop me off at the next bus stop,” she said, laying a twenty dollar bill on the dashboard, officially making him a professional violent offender.
“I’d dump the car if I were you,” she said, “Car theft. That’s five years.”
Mitch first thought with glee the respect he’d get for a carjacking; then as the sirens grew near, the words of Merle Haggard returned and gagged him.
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