The lights in the white house were still out when he came back. The driveway was still empty and there wasn’t a single sound coming from inside.
He went up the path to the front door, a black duffel bag hanging from his shoulder. The door was stained oak and it had a small decorative stained glass window at the top, but it used a simple pin and tumble lock. He slid the tension wrench in and when he twisted it to the left there was a little give. He slid the pick in and raked it slowly along the pins. He worked each one carefully until they were all in place and when he turned the tension wrench all the way the door came open.
It was difficult to see through the dark, but the streetlights outside sent a faint light through the sheer curtain. He was in the living room. It was filled with expensive antique furniture, but there was little in the way of small decorative items or electronics. On the coffee table there were just plants in glass vases and a hardcover book of photographs of sculptures. Instead of a television, there were shelves of books. There was an old clock with a thin gold lining on the wall, but had been fastened securely in place.
He stepped softly into the kitchen. It was an ivory-white affair, separate from the dining room. There was a rack next to the fridge filled with red wines with French names he did not recognize. A private school report card was up on display. He found plates and silverware in the cupboards, but he couldn’t tell if they were worth anything.
He creaked the fridge open only slightly, but was caught by its still electric light. He took a beer with a German-sounding name that he had to open with a bottle opener. It was when he stopped, sipped the beer and tried to think that he noticed the violin and the bow lying on the table in the dining room.
He clicked back the latches and saw the violin was still there. He latched it shut and slipped it into his bag.
He took a big drink of the beer and put it on the counter. The liquid struggled against his throat and he felt it tickling at his larynx and he tried to hold it in but he could not and he coughed violently into his sleeve.
He stopped. He heard the pendulum on the clock swing.
He thought he heard rustling upstairs but he wasn’t sure. Then there was the creaking of a door and the tips of a light came down and he ran to the hallway and he tried to find a closet but looked past it twice before recognizing it. The closet door creaked as he stepped inside and he held his hand over his mouth to quiet his breathing.
Richie, you alright? came a woman’s voice. Then, again, in an admonishing tone: Richie?
The staircase groaned under the weight of her steps; a slow, tired rhythm. He heard the soft drop of socked feet on the hardwood floor drawing closer and closer. It was still too dark to see, but he could smell some organic paste, something like cucumber and seaweed or mud and Epsom salt.
The feet made their way to the kitchen. The light came on with a click and the artificial white light slipped through the cracks in the closet. He could see the top of a greying bun of hair and a pink cotton bathrobe. The ticking of the clock came loud and slow and nothing moved for an eternity. Then the light clicked and it was dark again.
He waited until the patter was moving away, then threw open the closet door. His boots hit hard against the floor and she turned to see but he was quick and had snatched a hand over her mouth before she could make a sound. The flesh was thick, more leathery and weathered than he had expected. He streamed a shushing hiss into her ear and forced her face forward.
Stay cool, he hushed in a sing-songy whisper, like he was putting a child to sleep. Stay cool, lady, stay cool. It’s all gonna be alright.
She let a brief muffled exclamation out into his hand in response, then stayed silent. He could feel the hot moisture of her rapid breaths on his hand.
Stay cool. That’s good. That’s real good. He told her he was there for things not people. Only things. Just want the things. Her breath was still fast and heavy and her body shook in his grip. He brought his free hand slowly to her fingers and felt the sharp edges of her diamond ring. He tried to slip it off but it was tight and he had to yank and twist at it and she yelped out a muffled sound and her breathing was heavier and her shaking was faster. He said it’s just things, it’s just things but she didn’t stop shaking until it was off her finger and in his pocket.
He asked if there was a safe but she shook her head no. He said don’t fuck with me lady, there’s gotta be something. He noticed then that she was crying and released his grip on her arm. Then he said give me a break and he gripped her harder and forced her up the stairs.
It was clear which room was hers because the door was still open and the light was still on. He lead her in. The massive bed was scattered and used on one side and stiffly tucked on the other. There were dressers and cabinets but nothing on top of them and he didn’t know which was for what. He said jewelry, diamonds, whatever you got, but she just stood there sniffling and sobbing. He closed the door so her kid would not hear her. He told her to stop that, give me a break, you have insurance, don’t you? but she still did not move.
He opened one of the cabinets himself but all he saw was suit jackets. He rifled through them not knowing what he was looking for. There was a large wooden box with roses painted on it on the top shelf and he asked what was in it and she just gave him a pleading look. He pulled it down and opened it but it was just photo books and he slammed it on the ground before he knew what he was doing.
He stopped. Nothing. The only sound was her sobbing and her breathing.
He said he didn’t want to hurt her but I need your help. I just want to get out of here and the sooner you help me the sooner I can leave. She was mumbling some incantation over and over again, hidden in heavy breaths. He said what? but she just kept saying it. He came closer and then he could hear it. Please don’t hurt my boy please don’t hurt my boy.
Jesus, lady. Who do you think I am? Jesus.
She kept saying it and he started pacing furiously around the room. Please don’t hurt my boy please don’t hurt my boy. He rushed up to her and shook her violently, hissing Shut up! Shut up shut up shut up! She was sobbing again and she would not look at him and he wanted so badly to hit her that he scared himself and he let go. He said to just get the things and he’d go.
She nodded through the sobs and she opened a dresser and rummaged inside. She pulled out a necklace that could have been diamond and two brooches that could have been anything. He said what is this? The money, man! The money! and she said what and then it’s in the bank, where else, it’s in the bank.
He took them from her sharply and put them in his pocket. He saw a slight glimmer in the drawer and he pushed her out of the way and she hit her head on the cabinet behind her and gasped airless shock. He pulled out an old looking gold bracelet that he thought was real and she started saying no, no, please, no, that was my mother’s. Anything else, please.
He held it in his hand. He looked at her pleading on the floor. He thought it was probably real gold and he did not think the necklace was real. He told her he’d tell her where he pawned it. She’d get the insurance money and she’d get her things back cheap. She was sobbing again and he said give me a break.
He looked at the bracelet again. He asked if the violin was the boy’s and she said it was. He said he had a boy too. His boy played baseball. She said nothing to that. He said he was a carpenter. He’d lost his job. He had to do this. It wasn’t like he enjoyed it. Things weren’t as easy for everyone as they were for people like her. He had a boy too. She kept glowering at him like he was filth and he felt like smacking that look off her smug fucking face but he opened the door and left instead.
He went back through the dining room. He looked at the table and he thought he might put the violin back but he didn’t. There was a cell phone with a cartoon character on the case that he hadn’t noticed before and he put it in his pocket. Then he left through the front door.
He thought he should memorize the house number to let her know where he sold the things but he didn’t. He left quickly with the few things he’d taken and he didn’t look back.