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It’s that time again, Friends and Neighbors:

Once again I am participating in NYC Midnight’s Short Story competition. This is a great contest that I have way too much fun with. Like, I’ve been wandering around my apartment cackling like a madman and twirling my mustaches. (Well, maybe not quite…but it -is- fun.)

My Round #1 assignment:

Genre: Crime Caper
Subject: A Bankruptcy
Character: A Gardener

_________________________________________

A Whole Pot of Trouble

“What that hell do you mean, we’re bankrupt?” Cindy’s voice echoed through the greenhouse. “We’re two hot chicks that sell pot for chrissake!”

I pulled in a slow breath, searching for calm. “Yeah, but everyone sells pot these days.”

Cindy growled, clearly not paying attention to anything I was saying. “We’ve been selling pot for ten years, we never went bankrupt before!”

“We’re doing it legally now. There’s a lot more costs. We have to pay insurance, licensing, employees-”

“What employees?!? You mean Art?”

“He’s the best botanist in the city!”

A shaggy mass of hair rose from behind one of the hydroponic beds. “You guys called, man?”

“Beat it, Art!” Cindy snapped.

Art’s grin cut through his shaggy mass of hair and beard. “Okay, man.”

“Jesus, I can see us going broke if we have to pay him per cubic inch of facial hair, but I don’t see how we’re not making money hand over fist.” She dropped her hands on my shoulders, leaning in close for emphasis. “We. Sell. Pot.”

“Yes. I work here, remember?”

“Oh, I remember,” she smiled. “I remember selling dime bags out of Art’s van every Saturday night. I remember filling the bathtub with cash and rolling in it until you had to kick me out so you could go pee.” Her fingers clenched on my collar. “What the hell happened?”

“We tried to go big too soon and we got screwed. I told you I wanted us to build for the long term.”

She threw her arms up in disgust, twirling to storm away through the greenhouse. “What the hell good does an ‘I told you so’ do?!? We’re going broke!”

I blew the hair out of my face as Art came back around the corner. “Everything okay, Jen? Cindy stormed out a little faster than normal.”

“We’re forty grand in the red.”

Art’s face dropped, the little skin visible behind his beard and hair paled. “I was just sampling for quality, man. I promise I ain’t been burning that much.”

“I know, Art. It wasn’t you. It’s those damned hydroponic beds we put in for the pharmaceutical sales. We took out a loan with the contract as collateral, but our buyer just backed out.”

“Oh, man. You mean we ain’t growing the ‘big red X’? I’ve been tweaking that genome for months.”

“I know.” I grabbed a trowel and started stabbing the nearest pile of dirt. “It’s genius. I dropped our last few grand to patent it, but it will take months to arrange new buyers and with the contract gone, the collateral is gone, and the bank wants the loan repaid immediately.”

“That sucks, man. Can you get another loan?”

“Not in time.” I shook my head. “We’ve only got a few days.”

“Oh man…” Art lit a small pocket pipe and held a cloud of smoke so long that he must have had extra air trapped in his beard. Finally, he coughed. “Where’d Cin go, then?”

“You know her.” I waved toward the back room. “She’s in the office running the numbers herself.”

“You want me to keep getting the hydroponics up and running, or just leave it?”

“Get it running. We might as well use them while they’re still ours.”

Art drifted away, bobbing between raised beds and hydroponic bays. I dropped the trowel on a nearby shelf and started trimming plants. I’d already been over the finance numbers a dozen times. Maybe Cindy could find something I missed.

*

“I got it!” Cindy yelled, kicking open the door to my bedroom.

I lunged, half-awake, for the baseball bat beside my bed, raising it to a striking position as the ceiling lights blazed into life. Cindy ignored the metal bat and leapt on my bed. “We can do it!” she cried. “It’ll take a bit, but it’s a perfect chance.”

“Cindy…”

“It’ll save the store. Maybe a little extra padding. Who knows? Maybe a lot extra.”

“Cindy.”

“We’ll need to get the van from Art. Maybe a couple of maid outfits. Do you think they sell those nearby?”

I lowered the baseball bat and stared at the glowing numbers on my alarm clock until they started to make sense. It was almost, but not quite, three am. I growled and crawled off the bed past Cindy, walking into the hall. “Hey,” she yelled, turning to follow. “Where are you going?”

I slammed the bathroom door shut in her face and put the baseball bat on the counter while I took care of business. Cindy was still talking on the far side of the door, but I ignored her until after I’d washed my hands and face. I opened the door, grabbing the bat off the counter and waving it at Cindy, but she only stopped her train of thought long enough to stare at me with an incredulous look. “Are you going to be all day?”

I looked her up and down. She was still in the same clothes she’d worn earlier. “You went through the numbers?” I asked.

“Haven’t you been listening?!?”

“No.”

“Ugh!” she threw up her hands in disgust. “We can save the farm!”

That got my attention. “What?!? How?”

“It’s easy. All we need is more money.”

“That’s your plan? Get more money?”

“Exactly!” She beamed at me.

“I’m going back to bed.”

“Noooo!” She grabbed me by the arm, dragging me toward the living room. “I’ve got a plan.”

“Is there coffee?”

Cindy nodded vigorously. “Lots!”

I poured steaming coffee into a mug and settled into my favorite chair with the baseball bat across my knees. “Okay. If I promise to listen will you let me go back to bed?”

“We pull a heist!”

Blink. “What?”

“No. Hear me out. This is perfect.”

“You remember that news article about Isabel Allenda? The bajillionaire that died last week? They’re auctioning off her stuff in a couple days according to her will. The proceeds are all going to charity. But! Before then, a solid mass of her sycophantic relatives are coming to the house for the wake. It’s their last chance to make a grab for the old lady’s stuff. All we do is go in, pretend to be some of the help, and swipe a few things. We grab some jewels, some cash, antiques, whatever. Then we bug out, fence the goods, and blammo! Loads of cash. The best part is that no one will miss anything. They’ll all think somebody else swiped it.”

Blink. “What…?”

“Right?!? It’s a perfect plan!”

“Cindy…” I took a deep breath. “We’re not thieves.”

“We’ve stolen stuff before.”

“We snagged a police scanner from radio shack to mount in Art’s Van. And you were so panicked you tried to smuggle it out by hiding it under my shirt.”

“I thought it would fit.”

“I was wearing a tank top!”

“This is different.”

“Yeah. This could lead to serious jail time.”

Cindy looked seriously hurt. “So you have a better plan, then?”

“No, but I’m not gonna rob some old lady!”

“You don’t have to.” Cindy beamed. “She’s already dead! All we’re doing is swiping a few things before her relatives steal it all.”

“We don’t do stuff like that anymore. We’re legit now.”

“Ugh!” Cindy rolled her eyes, slumping back in her chair. “We’re legit because they changed the law, not because we changed. We used to be partners in crime, remember? Two hot chick drug dealers?” She laughed. “You remember that time we almost got busted by that narc? You saw the wire before I did and thumped him on the head with your bat.” She pointed at my lap. “We had to beat feet, but we got out clean.”

“What does that have to do with anything?”

“Don’t you miss the thrill? I mean, come on man, we were selling drugs for more than ten years before the law changed. We ran from the cops a lot, but we never got busted once. Our records are completely clean. Remember that undercover cop?”

“Oh man,” I snorted into my coffee. “He spent all night trying to bust us because he thought we were prostitutes.”

“Right?! We lost so many customers…”

I stared at my coffee for a few seconds and sighed. “How would we get in?”

“Yes!” Cindy clapped her hands. “We go as maids. If the household staff is still there, we say we’re from the auction house. If the auction staff is there, we say the family hired us.”

“What if the family’s already there? Or an attorney? You know with that crowd it’s first come first grab.”

Cindy shrugged. “If we run into the family we just pretend we’re Mexican.”

“What?!? Isn’t that a little racist?”

She dismissed me with a wave. “Pfffft. They’re rich white people. They think anyone who scrubs a toilet is Mexican.”

“That’s horrible.”

“Which is why we should rob them blind.”

*

Art’s van rumbled to a stop at the rear of the Allenda mansion. “Isabel Allenda, huh? I hear she has some great furniture.”

Cindy rolled her eyes. “We’re not looking for furniture, Art. We want the good stuff.”

“But my cousin has that shop-”

“No, Art.”

Art shrugged, rustling the shoulders of his coveralls. Cindy and I were in maid uniforms of the same industrial grey color that seemed universal in the working world. “We get in, pocket what we can, and get out. Right?”

Cindy nodded. “Right.”

Art shrugged again. “Sure, man.”

I stared at the two of them for several seconds each before sliding out of the van. “We are so going to jail.”

Art stepped and Cindy stepped out behind me, moving to the back of the van and grabbing carts full of cleaning supplies. We breezed through the back door with so little effort that I was afraid it was a setup. Art drifted away almost as soon as we were through the door. spritzing a homemade vinegar cleaner onto the nearest available surface and humming show tunes. “Hey man, look at these chairs,” he said as Cindy rampaged past him into the living spaces.

I let Cindy and art go on without me while I busied myself cleaning the first several rooms I came to. The facade was too important to risk. Anytime I saw other workers, we’d exchange a nod or a smile, but everyone left everyone alone and paid me almost no attention at all.

I slid a silver cigarette case into the trash bag on my cart, wincing as it clinked against some of the few other items at the bottom and rolling into another room. I stopped, staring at the walls. Bright rectangles of color stood out where paintings used to be. Only a few paintings were gone, it was easy to see where they’d been. My heart sped up. Someone from the family was here.

I shot Art a text message and grabbed my vacuum cleaner, heading upstairs to find Cindy. Despite what she’d said, if the family found her here, she’d most likely panic and freeze.

She was on the third floor, marauding through a bedroom that Thomas Jefferson would have been proud to call his own. She wore a gold necklace and was trying on a pair of ruby earrings the size of my thumb. I hissed at her from the doorway and she dropped earrings back into the tray on top of the dresser. “Someone would definitely miss those.”

I closed the door. “The family’s here,” I hissed. “We should go.”

She waved me off. “We’ve got time.”

“No, we should really-”

The door banged open and Cindy and I whipped around to stare at the man who came in. He was tall, blonde, and wore a suit that was worth more money than our entire pot farm. “What are you doing in here?” he demanded. “This area is off limits.”

Cindy froze, the blood draining from her face. I stiffened, swallowing hard. The man scowled at me, glaring over the glowing tip of an e-cigarette. “Well?”

“Uhm…” I coughed. “No comprendo, senor.”

The tall man rolled his eyes. “Oh…” He made shooing motions toward the far door. “Run along. Daddy has work to do.”

I nodded and backed toward Cindy, but my foot clobbered the housekeeping cart, knocking it into the nearby dresser. The cart clanged to a stop, the contents ringing like someone had knocked over a pile of pots. The blonde man’s sneer deepened into a scowl at the noise. “What in blazes?”

He lunged across the room, knocking me sideways onto the bed and grabbed Cindy by the wrist. He ripped the necklace off her throat, screaming in indignant rage. “You little thief!”

Cindy gasped and kicked out, slamming her foot into the man’s shin. He grunted and swore, smashing his fist into the side of her head. I saw red and flew off the bed, grabbing my vacuum with both hands and swinging as hard as I could. The cheap plastic handle shattered as the heavy floor piece slammed into the man’s side. He crumpled in a heap, groaning as he hit the floor.

Cindy and I stared first at the man on the ground and then at the shattered plastic handle in my hands. We looked up, our eyes meeting. I threw the handle over my shoulder and we bolted for the door.

Cindy gasped as we ran down the stairs. “I can’t believe you did that.”

“We have got to get out of here.”

“He’ll have an army of cops here in minutes.”

We bolted down the stairs. “God, I hope Art has the van ready.”

“We didn’t get any loot.”

“Money can wait! We need to run!”

We hit the ground floor as the first of the shout started from the top bedroom. We didn’t slow. We raced out the kitchen and past a half dozen startled auction house personnel into the back lot of the mansion.

Art’ van was idling just outside the rear door. Cindy and I threw ourselves inside, colliding with a jumble of wood and cloth as Art gunned the motor. The van careened of the estate grounds, knocking us sprawling into the mass of old wood chairs. “What the hell, Art?”

“Hey, careful man. Don’t scratch the chairs.”

Cindy shoved some of the chairs aside until she could fit in her seat. “Are you out of your mind? We wanted good stuff!”

“It’s good furniture, man. I told you. I got that cousin.”

Cindy started sputtering, working her way up to a full scale blowout. I held up a hand, stopping her. “Art, what’s so special about these chairs?”

“Oh man, that’s a full set of original Chippendale chairs, man. Circa 1775. At auction they’re worth about a hundred grand, man. Pretty untraceable too. You guys get anything good?”

I threw a look over my shoulder, smiling at Cindy’s slack jawed face as she gawked at the chairs around her. “We’re good, Art. We got you.”

“Far out, man.”

 

 

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