Bill Roberts decided to rob the firecracker stand on account he didn’t have a job and not a nickel’s worth of money and his mother was dead and kind of freeze-dried in her bedroom.
Well, not completely freeze-dried. Actually, she stunk, but she seemed to be holding her own, having only partially melted into the mattress, and if he kept the door closed and pointed a fan that way to blow back the smell, it wasn’t so bad.
The firecracker stand was out on the highway, and it was the week of the Fourth of July, and the stand stayed open reasonably late every night, so after a couple nights watching, seeing lots of people out there buying firecrackers, Bill decided it was a good place to heist.
He figured he ought to hit it kind of late in the night so there’d be plenty of money. He thought he might steal a few firecrackers too. He liked the teepee-shaped kind that spewed sparkles of colors all over the place, then finished by blowing up. Those were his favorites by far, and he thought if the stand had any, he might just take some, and if they didn’t have any, he thought some Black Cats and some Roman candles would do.
The stand was almost directly across the highway from where he lived with his mother’s body, so he didn’t want to just walk over and rob it, and he didn’t want to drive his car over there either, ’cause he figured someone sitting there all day in the stand looking across the highway might have noticed it parked under the sweet gum tree next to the house, and if they did, and he drove over there and robbed the stand, sure as shit, someone would remember his car. It didn’t take a brain surgeon to figure that one.
Bill began to consider the angles.
One angle he was sure of was, now that his mother had died at the age of about ten million, there wouldn’t be any more checks signed by her for cashing. He had practiced writing her name until he had worn out about a half dozen ballpoint pens, but never could feel confident about the way he put it down. The checks had started to stack up now, all the way to seven, and he didn’t think he could get away with forgery. His mother had relished a distinct style in penmanship that only a chicken scratching in cow shit might duplicate with authenticity.
The old gal had been right enough and mean enough six months earlier, but one night, after watching Championship Wrestling, perhaps due to excitement over a particularly heated contest, or an overly vigorous inhalement of gummy bears, which she stuffed into her bony body as if they were the fruit of life, she had gone to bed and hadn’t gotten up again.
Bill thought at first he ought to report it. Then it came to him that if he did he’d lose the house and wouldn’t have any place to live. His mother owned everything, and except for a bit she doled out to him on check-cashing day, providing him with a roof and food to eat, there was nothing else. She hadn’t left anything to him in her will. She had donated it all to some kind of veterinarian research thing so cats could be saved from bad livers or some such shit.
Frankly, Bill didn’t give a flying damn about a bunch of cat livers or any part of a cat. The little bastards could die for all he cared. He’d certainly taken care of all his mother’s cats after her death. Unless the fuckers had sprouted gills, or had scissors to get out of those rock-weighted tow sacks he put them in, he figured they were resting pleasantly at the bottom of the Sabine River. No liver trouble, no problems whatsoever.
No, he didn’t think he ought to call the authorities and tell them his mother was dead. It seemed wiser to turn up the air conditioner in her room and keep that fan blowing and be quiet. Only thing was, now the electricity bill had come twice, then a notice, and then it had been cut off, and with no juice Mama began to stink something furious. He put a big black trash bag over her feet, up to her waist, and pulled one over her head, tied them together where they met at the waist with one of her robe belts. But that didn’t hold the stink in worth a damn. He poured a whole bottle of Brut cologne over her, and that helped some. She smelled like a sixteen-year-old boy on the way to his first date.
Finally the cologne fermented with Mama and gave off an even more intense aroma. But eventually that passed. Between all the air-conditioning, the Baggies, the heat, and the stale air, the old gal semi-mummified. Not so much she didn’t still smell dead, but enough it didn’t run him out of the house anymore. It was now like a dog had died under the porch and was almost rotted away.
Worse than the odor was the lack of electricity. All the food in the refrigerator had spoiled and he had to sit in the dark at night and smoke his mother’s cigarettes and look at a dead TV set and eat vegetables out of cans. There were plenty of cans, but he didn’t really want any of it. There were goddamn beets, and goddamn green beans, and goddamn corn, and goddamn new potatoes. Not a shred of meat, except for some Beenie-Weenies, and he’d jumped on those scamps two days after the old lady bit the big one. So now it was nothing but canned vegetables, and they were running low and he’d foolishly pushed the beets back until the last, so now that’s all he had to eat. Beets. He wished he’d doled those boogers out.
Sometimes he sat on the front porch with his can of vegetables and watched bugs fly across the light of the moon, and sometimes he just sat and watched people pull up at the stand across the highway and buy firecrackers. He started counting the people and figuring from the size of their sacks about how much they were spending, and that got him thinking about how much was back there in the stand each night before they closed and took it home.
Each day, as it got closer to the Fourth of July, the traffic increased. He thought if he waited until the Fourth to hit the place that would be the biggest night, and he might clean up good. He thought maybe he did, he could pay the electric bill, phone, all the rest, and manage to pay the water bill before it got turned off. It was the one thing that he’d had enough cash to pay, and he’d kept it up, but he couldn’t afford it again. He was down to his last few dollars and he knew he’d miss that water. He liked to take baths, even if they were cold, and drink lots of water to keep from thinking about eating. He had paid the post office box bill for a year so he wouldn’t have to worry about the mailman coming around. Not that he did any more than stuff mail in the box out by the highway, but he figured the less people he could have near the house the better, just in case he was so used to Mama that others might be able to get a sniff of her all the way out to the mailbox.
Since his mother didn’t have any family other than him that would have anything to do with her, and she didn’t have any friends, he figured he might could go on indefinitely, provided he learned to sign her checks or found someone willing to do it for a little cut of the money.
‘Course, that plan had limits. After a bit, Social Security might figure out his Mama wasn’t over a hundred years old and still living. But since she was in her eighties when she died, he thought he might could get ten years out of her checks before anyone got wise and came around to throw her an Oldest Person In America birthday party. By then, he’d have plans. Like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, he might go off to Bolivia.
The whole thing, trying to figure out what to do, made Bill’s head hurt. But one thing he was certain of, a good place to start was knocking over that firecracker stand.
He thought of a couple fellas he knew might be up for the job, and though he wasn’t big on cutting them in, the idea of doing it alone didn’t appeal to him. Besides, they needed a getaway car, and Chaplin, one of the fellas he was thinking about, could hot-wire a waffle iron he took a mind to. And Fat Boy Wilson could drive a waffle iron if that’s all they had to drive.
A few days later after all this considering, Bill drove into town on the last of his gas and found Chaplin and Fat Boy working on a car in Fat Boy’s garage. Chaplin was under it and having Fat Boy pass down wrenches.
“How’s the boy?” Fat Boy asked Bill.
“I’m fine. That Chaplin under there?”
“Naw, I’m Raquel Welch,” Chaplin called from beneath the car, “and I’m givin’ the car a blow job. How you doin’?”
“How’s your mom, Bill?”
“Fine. Who’s Raquel Welch?”
“One of the big-tittie actresses. She’s a little long in the tooth now, I reckon. Hell, she might be dead.”
“That don’t matter none to Chaplin,” Fat Boy said. “Long as her titties ain’t rotted off and there’s some kind of hole in her.”
They laughed. Bill said, “You boys want to do a little somethin’? You know, a little job.”
“You don’t mean illegal, do you?” Fat Boy said. “I mean, I don’t do nothing illegal.”
All three laughed, and Chaplin, who had been lying on a wheeled board, a creeper he called it, slid out from under the car and got a rag and wiped his hands.
“Well,” Chaplin said, “it illegal?”
“Yeah,” Bill said, “it’s some illegal.”
“Long as it ain’t killin’ nobody,” Fat Boy said.
“We’re gonna have to have guns, but that’s just for show.”
“Man, I don’t know,” Fat Boy said. “I did that filling station over in Center with you, and you’re kind of nervous when there’s guns. Chaplin, he likes guns too much. I thought we might end up shootin’ someone. I don’t want to shoot no one. I mean, they’re gonna shoot me, I might shoot ’em, but I don’t want to shoot nobody I don’t have to.”
“You don’t got to shoot anybody,” Bill said. “I don’t want anyone to get hurt. It’s just for show.”
“I might shoot somebody, it’s worth the money,” Chaplin said.
“It’s a firecracker stand,” Bill said. “I figure they take in several thousand a day. I’m sayin’ we split it three ways.”
“How many guys run the stand?” Fat Boy asked.
“One most of the time. Sometimes two. We hit it at closing time, take the money and run. Piece of cake. We’ll need to heist a car to do the job, ditch it somewhere, have our own waitin’. We wear masks. We don’t say much. We wave a pistol around. We get the money and we’re gone.”
“Them firecracker stands,” Fat Boy said, “they’re out of the city, easy targets.”
“It’d be a whole lot easier than a convenience store,” Chaplin said.
“That’s right,” Bill said. “This one is across from my house. Easy pickin’s.”