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Authors: Michael Knight


BOOK: Dogfight
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and Other Stories


and Other Stories

Michael Knight

Copyright © 1998 by Michael Knight
“Smash & Grab” © 2007 by Michael Knight

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, or the facilitation thereof, including information storage and retrieval systems, without permission in writing from the publisher, except by a reviewer, who may quote brief passages in a review. Any members of educational institutions wishing to photocopy part or all of the work for classroom use, or publishers who would like to obtain permission to include the work in an anthology, should send their inquiries to Grove/Atlantic, Inc., 841 Broadway, New York, NY 10003.

First published in 1998 by Plume, an imprint of Dutton NAL,
a member of Penguin Putnam Inc.

Printed in the United States of America

eBook ISBN-13: 978-1-5558-4828-6

Grove Press
an imprint of Grove/Atlantic, Inc.
841 Broadway
New York, NY 10003

Distributed by Publishers Group West

For My Parents


Smash & Grab

Now You See Her


Gerald's Monkey

Sleeping with My Dog

Amelia Earhart's Coat

A Bad Man, So Pretty

The Man Who Went Out for Cigarettes



Smash & Grab

At the last house on the left, the one with no security system sign staked on the lawn, no dog in the backyard, Cashdollar elbowed out a pane of glass in the kitchen door and reached through to unlock it from the inside. Though he was 99 percent certain that the house was empty (he'd watched the owners leave himself), he paused a moment just across the threshold, listened carefully, heard nothing. Satisfied, he padded through an archway into the dining room, where he found a chest of silverware and emptied its contents into the pillowcase he'd brought. He was headed down the hall, looking for the master bedroom, hoping that, in the rush to make some New Year's Eve soiree, the lady of the house had left her jewelry in plain sight, when he saw a flash of white and his head was snapped back on his neck, the bones in his face suddenly aflame. He wobbled, dropped to his knees. Then a girlish grunt and another burst of pain and all he knew was darkness.

He came to with his wrists and ankles bound with duct tape to the arms and legs of a ladder-back chair. His cheeks throbbed. His nose felt huge with ache. Opposite him, in an identical chair, a teenage girl was blowing lightly on the fingers of her left hand. There was a porcelain toilet tank lid, flecked with blood, across her lap. On it was arrayed a pair of cuticle scissors, a bottle of clear polish, cotton balls,
and a nail file. The girl glanced up at him now, and he would have sworn she was pleased to find him awake.

“How's your face?” she said.

She was long-limbed, lean but not skinny, wearing a T-shirt with the words
Saint Bridget's Volleyball
across the front in pastel plaids. Her hair was pulled into pigtails. She wore flannel boxers and pink wool socks.

“It hurts like hell.” His nostrils were plugged with blood, his voice buzzing like bad wiring in his head.

The girl did a sympathetic wince.

“I thought no one was home,” he said.

“I guess you cased the house?” she said. “Is that the word—

Cashdollar nodded and she gave him a look, like she was sorry for spoiling his plans.

“I'm at boarding school. I just flew in this afternoon.”

“I didn't see a light,” he said.

“I keep foil over the windows,” she said. “I need total darkness when I sleep. There's weather stripping under the door and everything.”

“Have you called the police?”

“Right after I knocked you out. You scared me so bad I practically just shouted my address into the phone and hung up.” She giggled a little at herself. “I was afraid you'd wake up and kill me. That's why the tape. I'll call again if they aren't here soon.” This last she delivered as if she regretted having to make him wait. She waggled her fingers at him. “I was on my left pinky when I heard the window break.”

Cashdollar estimated at least ten minutes for the girl to drag him down the hall and truss him up, which meant that the police would be arriving momentarily. He had robbed houses in seven states, had surprised his share of home owners, but he'd never once had a run-in with the law. He was too fast on his feet for that, strictly smash and grab, never got greedy, never resorted to violence. Neither, however, had a teenage girl ever bashed him unconscious with a toilet lid and duct taped him to a chair.

“This boarding school,” he said. “They don't send you home for Christmas.”

“I do Christmas with my mom,” she said.

Cashdollar waited a moment for her to elaborate but she was quiet and he wondered if he hadn't hit on the beginnings of an angle here, wondered if he had time enough to work it. When it was clear that she wasn't going to continue, he prompted her.

“Divorce is hard,” he said.

The girl shrugged. “Everybody's divorced.”

“So the woman I saw before …” He let the words trail off into a question.

“My father's girlfriend,” she said. “One of.” She rolled her eyes. “My dad—last of the big-time swingers.”

“Do you like her?” he said. “Is she nice?”

“I hardly know her. She's a nurse. She works for him.” She waved a hand before her face as if swiping at an insect. “I think it's tacky if you want to know the truth.”

They were in the dining room, though Cashdollar hadn't bothered to take it in when he was loading up the silverware. He saw crown molding. He saw paintings on the walls, dogs and dead birds done in oils, expensive but without resale value. This was a doctor's house, he thought. It made him angry that he'd misread the presence of the woman, angrier even than the fact that he'd let himself get caught. He was thirty-six years old. That seemed to him just then like a long time to be alive.

“I'm surprised you don't have a date,” he said. “Pretty girl like you home alone on New Year's Eve.”

He had his doubts about flattery—the girl seemed too sharp for that—but she took his remark in stride.

“Like I said, I just got in today and I'm away at school most of the year. Plus, I spend more time with my mother in California than my father so I don't really know anybody here.”

“What's your name?” he said.

The girl hesitated. “I'm not sure I should tell you that.”

“I just figured if you told me your name and I told you mine then you'd know somebody here.”

“I don't think so,” she said.

Cashdollar closed his eyes. He was glad that he wasn't wearing some kind of burglar costume—the black sweat suit, the ski mask. He felt less obvious in street clothes. Tonight, he'd chosen a hunter green coat, a navy turtleneck, khaki pants, and boat shoes. He didn't bother wearing gloves. He wasn't so scary-looking this way, he thought, and when he asked the question that was on his mind, it might seem like one regular person asking a favor of another.

“Listen, I'm just going to come right out and say this, okay. I'm wondering what are the chances you'd consider letting me go?” The girl opened her mouth but Cashdollar pressed ahead before she could refuse and she settled back into her chair to let him finish. “Because the police will be here soon and I don't want to go to prison and I promise, if you let me, I'll leave the way I came in and vanish from your life forever.”

The girl was quiet for a moment, her face patient and composed, as if waiting to be sure he'd said his piece. He could hear the refrigerator humming in the kitchen. A moth plinked against the chandelier over their heads. He wondered if it hadn't slipped in through the broken pane. The girl capped the bottle of nail polish, lifted the toilet lid from her lap without disturbing the contents, and set it on the floor beside her chair.

“I'm sorry,” she said. “I really am but you did break into the house and you put my father's silverware in your pillowcase and I'm sure you would have taken other things if I hadn't hit you on the head. If you want, I'll tell the police that you've been very nice, but I don't think it's right for me to let you go.”

In spite—or because—of her genial demeanor, Cashdollar was beginning to feel like his heart was on the blink; it felt as thick and rubbery as a hot water bottle in his chest. He held his breath and strained against his bonds, hard enough to hop his chair, once, twice, but the tape held fast. He sat there, panting.

The girl said, “Let me ask you something. Let's say I was asleep or watching TV or whatever and I didn't hear the window break. Let's say you saw me first—what would you have done?”

He didn't have to think about his reply.

“I would have turned around and left the house. I've never hurt anyone in my whole life.”

The girl stared at him for a long moment, then dropped her eyes, fanned her fingers, studied her handiwork. She didn't look altogether pleased. To the backs of her hands, she said, “I believe you.”

As if to punctuate her sentence, the doorbell rang, followed by four sharp knocks, announcing the arrival of the police.

While he waited, Cashdollar thought about prison. The possibility of incarceration loomed forever on the periphery of his life but he'd never allowed himself to waste a lot of time considering the specifics. He told himself that at least he wasn't leaving anyone behind, wasn't ruining anyone else's life, though even as he filled his head with reassurances, he understood that they were false and his pulse was roaring in his ears, his lungs constricting. He remembered this one break-in down in Pensacola when some sound he made (a rusty hinge? a creaking floorboard?) startled the owner of the house from sleep. The bedroom was dark and the man couldn't see Cashdollar standing at the door. “Violet?” he said. “Is that you, Vi?” There was such sadness, such longing in his voice that Cashdollar knew Violet was never coming back. He pitied the man, of course, but at the same time, he felt as if he were watching him through a window, felt outside the world looking in rather than in the middle of things with the world pressing down around him. The man rolled over, mumbled his way back to sleep, and Cashdollar crept out of the house feeling sorry for himself. He hadn't thought about that man in years. Now, he could hear voices in the next room but he couldn't make out what they were saying. It struck him that they were taking too long and he wondered if this wasn't what people meant when they described time bogging down at desperate moments.

Then the girl rounded the corner into the dining room trailing a pair of uniformed police officers, the first a white guy, straight out of central casting, big and pudgy, his tunic crumpled into his slacks, his belt slung low under his belly, the second a black woman, small with broad shoulders, her hair twisted into braids under her cap. “My friend”—the girl paused, shot a significant look at Cashdollar— “Patrick, surprised him in the dining room and the burglar hit him with the toilet thingy and taped him up. Patrick, these are Officers Hildebran and Pruitt.” She tipped her head right, then left, to indicate the man and the woman respectively.

Officer Pruitt circled around behind Cashdollar's chair.

“What was the burglar doing with a toilet lid?”

“That's a mystery,” the girl said.

“Why haven't you cut him loose?”

“We didn't know what to do for sure,” the girl said. “He didn't seem to be hurt too bad and we didn't want to disturb the crime scene. On TV, they always make a big deal out of leaving everything just so.”

“I see,” said Officer Pruitt, exactly as if she didn't see at all. “And you did your nails to pass the time?” She pointed at the manicure paraphernalia.

BOOK: Dogfight
3.6Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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