"What's she talking about, Jeremy? I don't get it. How do you pull a caper when it's a tiny little green thing in a jar that you put in salads and on fish?" Zach asked.
"There is that, but I think in this instance she means we're about to commit a felony."
"Oh. Wait! Oh, no. No way. I can't get in trouble like that."
"Settle down Puppy, and listen up," Fiona said, clapping her hands. "I just got off the phone with Daddy, and he has some intel on your house. We have until midnight to get in there and get your stuff. But that's it."
"Hold on, buddy. Let's hear Fi out on this," I said. "I get a feeling it's not going to be that easy."
"It's not. Here's the thing, boys. We have to be out by midnight. So, we need to get a move on. We have less than eight hours to go through your house and see what we can scavenge before the mortgage company busts in and changes the locks. With a house this size, and what's its value is in one of the Southlands wealthiest neighborhoods, they're not going to mess around. We need to roll, and roll now."
"Listen to you, getting all gangster on us. I like this side of you."
"Jerry, be serious. We need to help Puppy out. And we have to do it now. Time's of the essence here."
I had to hold back a laugh. "Okay, Stiletto, we get it. What else did Big Daddy tell you? Can we take the stuff we grab to sell or pawn, or not? And are we going to off somebody? Should we wear ski masks? Black, leather gloves? I think there's a switchblade around here somewhere I can slip into my sock."
"Stop being a dildo, or I'm going to off you. According to Daddy, taking some things is kind of a gray area. It's sort of complicated. They're still trying to figure out what Puppy's legally entitled to. Definitely everything in his bedroom. That's a no brainer. And probably family heirlooms, pictures and stuff like that that's sentimental. But anything of value like jewelry and artwork or old coins probably isn't because of all the pending lawsuits filed against Puppy's dad. If the women suing Zach's dad win, then they can sue to collect on their judgment and grab all that that stuff. There was a lot more, but I got bored and tuned him out after that. Blah, blah this, blah, blah that. Anyway, get dressed and let's go. I'll be in the other room in case you boys want to rub your peckers together again for good luck."
Once Fiona left the bedroom, Zach looked at me and said, "She's a …"
"Handful? Certifiable? Needs some strong meds? Probably that, and a whole lot more. But she's got your back, buddy, so let's get moving."
"I was going to say Fiona's the best friend a guy could have in a situation like this. Well, actually, a best friend a guy could have, totally ever. She's like…like fearless. Yeah. She's fearless and awesome. Like Wonder Woman. You're way lucky to have a best friend like that."
"I am. I truly am. She's the best. C'mon, let's get dressed. We better wear black, or she'll make us go back and change our clothes."
A few minutes later we caught Fiona talking on the phone to some dude she'd met at the coffee shop earlier. Fi was all giggly, and when she spotted us, she told the guy, "Listen, I gotta run, pussycat. I have some breaking and entering to do. Talk to you later?"
"Seriously?" I asked when she put her iPhone down.
"Yes. Jock-boy was totally hot, and I mean hot, but has the brain of a five-legged krill. 'I do CrossFit four times a week, then me and my boys play rugby on Saturday mornings at the park. You're cute, baby. When can we hook up?' Yuck. Totally not interested in that."
"I'm kinda glad I'm gay. No wonder girls are always complaining about their guys," Zach said.
"So true," Fiona whined. Then, quickly changing gears, "Are we ready? Puppy? What do we need to know? Is there security? Nosy neighbors? Give us the layout of the land so we can make the most of our time."
"Okay, here's the deal. Our house is the biggest one on the block, and it actually has a name. Casa Noir. It's set way back from the street. There won't be anybody watching unless it's a maid or gardener from a neighbor's house getting off work late. There's a huge iron fence all around, and we need to use the code to get in the driveway gate. It's 55555 by the way. Once we're in, we can pull around to the back of the house. No one will be able to see us back there from the street. When you get to the garage, you can turn around and back in. That way we get out of there faster."
"Good to know."
"There's another code to get in the door. It's my birthday: 632000."
"Awesome," I said. "That's easy to remember. What else?"
"Our property's big, like four acres. No one's going to hear us or see us."
"Great. Jerry, we need to take your truck so we can pile in all his stuff and then get the hell out. Puppy? Anything else? I heard something about guns. Should we be worried about that? Both Jerry and I know how to shoot. We've been to the range plenty of times so we know how to handle firearms."
"Still, it might be a problem. When you go through drawers be careful. Like I said, my dad was paranoid, and my mom was nuts there at the end. Whatever you do, don't touch them. I'm pretty sure most of the guns are illegal and not registered to my dad. Since we don't know where they came from, or what their past is, you don't want to get your fingerprints on them. Shit's gonna hit the fan when the repo people find them."
"Why so many?" I asked. "Maybe we should wear gloves. We can use the ones in the kitchen."
"I think that's a good idea. I have no clue why my dad would come home with them. They've been around as long as I can remember. Probably got them from his staff, or as he called them, 'his people'. He's such a douche."
"Jerry, maybe you need to talk to Trevor before we head over and pull this heist."
"I absolutely hate that idea. Maybe on our way out, I'll tip him off with a text. I really don't want to see him or talk to him."
"I don't blame you. But if we're the last ones in there, we may have some culpability. I agree we need gloves. That way our fingerprints aren't on anything. Doesn't matter for Zack, but you and I need to be careful. How about I call the rookie asshole on our way out? You won't have to talk to him."
"I suppose that's a good idea. Okay everybody, anything else?"
"I have a thought," Zach said.
"Spill it," Fiona said.
"I think if we're going to do this as fast as possible, Fiona should ransack Mother's room while Jeremy goes through my dad's office downstairs. As far as I know, there's no inventory of my mother's jewelry so what they don't know about is fair game as far as I'm concerned. Fiona, your dad may be right, but we should take the jewelry anyway. We can always give it back if we have to. Just get the good stuff and leave the rest. You know how to tell what's real and what's fake, right?"
"Puppy! What a silly question. Of course I know the difference."
"Good. I have no idea. I'm glad you're here. I'm clueless with all of this. Mom got the good stuff when they first married, and after Mother and Dad would have a fight, and he'd have to make up. It was always his fault. I know some of it's worth a lot. I think the ones in the funny light-blue boxes are the best. But like I said, I have no idea about any of this stuff."
"Good to know."
"Jeremy, see if you can find my birth certificate and my passport. I couldn't find them, and I need them to get a real driver's license. I'll grab all my stuff from my bedroom and stash it in the truck while you guys are busy working on your end. If you run into trouble or have questions, yell for me. What do you guys think?"
"It's a brilliant plan. Let me grab a juice bottle and let's go pull this job. Puppy? One last question. You honestly ready for all of this? And tell me the truth. I know this has to be a big deal for you."
"Yes. I'm totally ready. Let's do it and then get out of there. I don't want to see the inside of that house ever again."
After letting Indy out to do her business, we locked up the house and headed to the garage. Zach was amazed when I opened the back door, stopping in his tracks for a minute, completely speechless.
"Holy, moly. This garage is ginormous. You've got like eight cars in here! And room for more. Wow, it's so spotless, like a new car showroom or something. Whose cars are these?"
"That beautiful brand-new Ford Raptor is all mine. I bought it for my birthday last month. Not only for that, but also because I couldn't get the stench of the twins vomit out of the old one no matter how hard we tried. The two next to the truck are the twin's cars, zippy little Honda Civics'. They like to race each other, but don't tell sis that. She'll castrate them if she finds out. That's her SUV over on the end, and in the back is Henry's Tesla. The other three are his babies. That's the start of his classic car collection and why we built this colossal garage."
"Wow, so cool. I love your truck. It looks super-hot. And that blue color is totally awesome. I can't wait to ride in it. And Jeremy? I promise I won't barf in it."
"That's very nice of you," I laughed.
"Boys and their cars. I'll never understand that."
"I read somewhere it has to do with our testicles," I told Fiona.
"Of course it does. Everything has to do with men's balls. The world is ruled by men's balls. Don't get me started. C'mon, let's go before I decide to castrate both of you here and now. And that gym-rat I just met? My experience with gym-rats like that is they have the tiniest balls ever. The bigger the muscles, the smaller the fruit. Like newborns."
"Wow, Fi. Thanks for sharing."
We jumped in the truck, one hand over our nuts, and headed towards the park ten or twelve blocks north of us. "Zach, where are we going?"
"Go up towards the park, and get on the north side next to the old Mission mill. I'll tell you how to find it when we get there. The streets get confusing because it's so curvy, but it's not far."
"I'm so excited," Fiona said. "I haven't had this much crazy-action since…well, shit! I'm not sure. Maybe when Tanis and I beat the shit out of her boyfriend behind the CVS when she caught him messing around with Zoe Anna on the loading dock back in eighth grade."
"You did that?" Zach asked. "Wow. Jeremy, remind me never to piss her off, okay?"
"Duly noted, buddy. She's lucky the dude didn't press charges."
"C'mon, Jerry. He had it coming. You know that. And really, all he got was an itty-bitty scratch on his cheek. You couldn't even see it. But getting whacked by two girls? He'll never forget that. I guarantee it."
"I'm sure he didn't. Zach? Where to?"
"Make a right on Panther Burn and a hard left on Shenandoah. We're in the middle on the left side."
"Got it," I said, and then a minute later I asked, "Hey? What's up with those two network news trucks?"
"Shit!" Fiona yelled, grabbing the back of his neck. "Down, Puppy, get down right now. Cover yourself."
"Why?" I asked. Zach had followed Fi's instructions and had scrunched down low onto the floor.
"Don't you see? They're waiting for someone to come by and get into the property. They want a freakin' story, those leeches, and they'll probably recognize him. Just keep driving. We'll figure this out. Oh, hell no. This isn't going to stop us. No way."
I drove past all the hoopla and made a right at the end of the street. Fiona told me to keep going in case someone followed us. Luckily, no one did. I finally stopped when I reached the border of Pasadena. "So, what now?"
"We should take the plates off your truck. They can trace your truck to your address, and then they'll be on you boys like poo pixies. Got a screwdriver in here?"
"Can I get up now?"
"Yes, and yes. Zach, you can help me. Fi, as weird as you are right now, you're making a whole lot of sense."
"Thank you, thank you. Now hurry your asses up."
License plates off and tucked out of view under the seat, we turned around and headed back, the kid still hiding on the floor. "Jeremy? Those people are ruthless. I told you Mother had to pepper spray them to make them go away. I don't even know how they got in the gates. Try and pull in close to the keypad, and once you're in, stop and wait for the gates to close behind you. They might try and squeeze in at the last second. Back up if you have to, so we keep them out."
"Good call, buddy."
I guess the reporters were asleep because when I pulled in the drive and punched in the code, there wasn't any movement from the news trucks. Once the gates closed, I followed Zach's instructions and backed in behind the house. Luckily, no one rushed us. Everything was quiet as an empty church. The only sound was a small plane droning overhead far in the distance. It was almost melancholy.
"Wow, Puppy. Is it this nice on the inside as it is on the outside? This place is huge, but your pool looks awfully green. Bushes need to be trimmed, too."
"I know. The pool guy was the first to go when we ran out of money. The gardeners were next, and poor Isabella there at the very end. I think she worked for a few weeks without pay. If I can find enough stuff to sell, the first thing I'm going to do is make sure she's paid."
"You're a good guy, Zach. You need to call her ASAP so you and I can chat with her. Hey, what's with the red Porsche sticking out of the garage?" I asked.
"That's one of my dad's. I don't know where he got it, but every time he drives it, he gets a ticket. I think there's a problem with it being legal in California. Doesn't pass emissions or something. There's a word for it, but I don't remember."
"Gray market?" I asked.
"That's too bad. It looks like a sweet ride. Well, let's get in there and see what we can find. Besides the jewelry, what else do you think might be of value?" I asked.
"Not much. The outside's for show, basically, and the inside is…well, you'll see in a minute. My parents haven't changed anything since way before I was born. It's kind of a throw-back to the 1980s, I guess. Or maybe before. I don't know. It's kind of a waste, actually. It's way too big a house for three people, and there's a lot of rooms we never use."
"What's in those rooms?" Fiona asked. "How many bedrooms?"
"Nine. One is filled with Christmas decorations, and one bedroom Mother used as her dressing room. Another one is just for her gowns and shoes. She never threw anything out. And a couple of rooms are empty. C'mon. I'll show you around."
"Wait! Put your gloves on, people."
We went inside through the large laundry room that led to the kitchen. The place was sort of eerie. Cold and sterile, and I guess you could call it lifeless. The kitchen definitely had seen better days. The old side-by-side refrigerator was making a whirring noise, and the sad-looking linoleum was curling at the edges. Fiona and I followed Zach through the massive house while he pointed out this or that, and once we got to Ziggy's office, I let out a gasp. It was ridiculously huge, and quite intimidating. A massive desk was front and center, and dusty, plush chairs and couches lined the perimeter. Everything was covered with papers and files scattered haphazardly on just about every flat surface.
"Zach? Did your dad do this? It looks like someone's been in here rooting around for something important," I asked.
"Yeah, he did most of this himself just before he left. I know he was pissed because at one point he couldn't find a script for some new project he was working on. But I added to it looking for my passport and birth certificate. I know it's a mess, but I hope you can find them. After I put my stuff in your truck, I'll come and help you look."
Fiona wasn't interested in the clutter, but she was captivated by all of the movie posters and pictures of Ziggy shaking hands with this guy, that guy, or arms around some half-dressed buxom starlet at an opening or something. Zach's dad was really a giant sleaze. "Your dad produced all these movies?" Fiona asked. "I think I know that guy. Isn't that Bill Cosby?"
"Yeah. He either produced them or co-produced them with his partners. Check this picture out. It's my dad and Kevin Spacey. I met that guy once in London."
"Did he try to grab your ass?" Fiona asked. "Looks like the scum-buckets like to hang out together."
"No, he didn't touch me, thank goodness. I guess I was too young, or he didn't want to make a pass in front of my dad. I was like eleven then."
"Did your dad win any kinds of awards? Like an Oscar or a Tony?" Fiona asked. "Are there any around we should take?"
"No. That was his biggest regret. He'd get so pissed about it. He made good money on the stuff he produced, but his scripts, music, and choice of actors were never all that great. I think he won something called a BAFTA once, but I don't know what that is. He probably took it with him when he split."
"That's too bad. I'd like to see it."
"Okay, everybody. Zach, besides your birth certificate and your passport, anything else I should look for?"
"Nothing that I know of. But if something seems important, might as well take it with us in case we could use it later. I don't know what it would be though. Use your judgment. C'mon, Fiona. Let's go upstairs, and I'll show you Mother's rooms."
"Be careful, guys. Holler at me if you need my help, and I'll be right up," I said.
Once they started climbing the grand staircase, the first thing I did was take a seat in the leather high-back chair. I was surprised it wasn't very comfortable and was kind of wobbly. Must have been old. I pulled out the middle drawer and found it empty, which surprised me. On a whim, I pulled the drawer completely out and set it on the floor. I took out the penlight I had shoved in my pocket at the last minute before we left home. Bending down, I shined it inside the slot in case something might have fallen out and got caught in there. Nothing but a couple of paperclips.
I did that to the top drawer on the right side with the same results. Next one down was partially full. After cautiously removing a cold, loaded Glock handgun and setting it on the top of the desk, I carefully pulled out a thick pack of papers. It was mostly old scripts that had been marked up, and none of the movies sounded familiar. On the bottom was a small collection of old, paper magazines. Swing Fever and Wife Swapper Quarterly. Oh, brother. Douche squared. I was beginning to think this was going to be a bust. But no.
When I pulled that drawer all the way out and took a look inside the compartment, there was a white envelope taped to the inside frame of the desk. I reached in, and it easily came off in my hand. Guess it had been in there for a while. It wasn't sealed and held a three-quarter sized folded paper. When I opened it up and started reading it, at first I got confused. But then it hit me. The problem was, I wasn't sure this was going to be good news or bad for Zach.
I folded the paper and slid it in my back pocket, then continued my search. There really wasn't anything else in the desk that looked remotely interesting or useful to Zach, and there was nothing else in the drawer compartments either. There was a long, low credenza directly behind the desk, and after spending a few minutes rifling through folders, there was nothing of interest there other than another gun and a past due property tax bill for over seventy-three thousand dollars.
I was headed to the stairs to see how Zach and Fiona were doing when I met the kid on the way down with a big load of clothes in his arms. "Here, buddy. I'll take that outside for you."
"I got it. I'm almost done. Why don't you see if Fiona needs help? She couldn't reach some of the top shelves in Mother's closets. You're way taller than me so that would be a big help. Up the stairs and all the way down the hall."
"No problem." I found Fiona sitting on a pea-green satin couch, trying on shoes. "What the hell are you doing?"
"Jerry, look at these! They're classic. All kinds of great designers. Some haven't even been worn. And you know what?"
"I'm afraid to ask."
"They fit! Any reason why I shouldn't take them?" she asked.
"First, they're Zach's, and he could sell them. Second, do you really want to be wearing a dead bitch's shoes? That's kind of hanky if you ask me."
"Oh, yeah. Hadn't thought of that. She has some sweet designer gowns, too. Look at this: Vivienne Westwood, Halston, and oh, wow! Pucci. This stuff's worth a mint. People pay big money for vintage stuff like that."
"Good. Show me what you think is sellable, and I'll take them down to the truck. Hurry up. We've been here for almost three hours now, and it's going to get dark soon. I don't want to press our luck."
I took maybe five or six loads down to the truck, with Zach taking boxes and boxes of shoes. I had no idea where we were going to store them when we got to my place, but we could worry about that later. On my last trip downstairs, I got a call from my sister. She said she was still waiting for Henry's contacts to get back to him, and I told her not to worry, we had everything under control. She felt better when I told her Fi was helping us out.
We were standing in the living room waiting on Fiona when I asked Zach if he was going to miss living here. "Yes and no. Yes, because it's familiar, but mostly no because of the bad memories. Plus, I'm anxious to start my new life, the way I want, on my own terms. Unfortunately, I have no idea what that is. Anyway, I was always an attachment to them, more than a son. So, I guess the real answer is no. I'm not going to miss it."
"That's a good perspective. Only good things are going to come your way from now on. I feel it."
"Yeah, I really do. I keep telling you thoughts are things, so be positive, keep moving forward, and great things will happen. I'm sure of it."
"How do you know all this stuff? You're not much older than me."
"Fi and I have a friend named Richard Standing Wolf. We call him Wolfie. Everybody does but the twins. They call him Wolf Uncle. Fiona and I met him in sixth grade, and he's one of our best buds. He's a pureblooded Navajo, but he calls himself either Indigenous Peoples or First Nations. It's hard to keep up with the terms. But whatever you call him, he's definitely a wise, old soul. He's great, and has taught me lots and lots of positive energy kind of stuff. I can't wait for you to meet him. You're going to love him, and I know he's going to love you."
"Why? I'm nothing special."
"Ah, but you are, young warrior, you are. You just don't know it yet." Zach stood there looking at me like I had just flown in from Saturn. So, I grabbed him up in a big, bone-crushing hug and kissed him hard on his forehead.
"Did you just kiss me?"
"Because you needed it. Plus, I wanted to. Did I freak you out?"
"Yes. No. I don't know."
"I'm sorry. I shouldn't have done that."
"I wished it was different, is all."
"I was hoping our first kiss would be on the lips," he said so quietly I could barely hear him.
"Oh, sorry. Well, in that case, why don't you kiss me? And aim for my mouth."
"Are you serious?"
"Absolutely, positively, totally."
The look on the kid's expression was priceless, grinning so happily that it covered his entire face. I loved seeing him like that. He launched himself at me wrapping his legs around my back and his arms around my neck. The best part was when he locked lips with me and wouldn't let go. It was glorious.
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