The basement I was working in was dark and with only one small window allowing early-morning light to filter in. Specks of dust drifted in the air, swirling as I dragged my toolbox closer to me. It smelled musty and damp down here, like the door hadn’t been opened for the last decade or so.
Given that my client had been the owner of the house for over thirty years and had been living here alone for the last ten of them, it was entirely possible that Mrs. Kilkenny hadn’t opened the door in that long.
“I think we’re done here.” I grinned at the elderly woman over my shoulder and shut the breaker box before bending down to gather my tools.
“Does that mean I have electricity again?” Mrs. Kilkenny slapped her hands to her flushed cheeks and smiled. “Thank God. It’s too hot to live without my fans at the moment.”
Seeing as how we lived in Florida, it was almost always too hot to live without fans. I didn’t bother pointing that out to her. The woman had been alive for a lot longer than I had, and I was sure she knew where she lived by now.
“I’ll test the plugs that caused the trouble before I go, but if I’ve done my job, then you shouldn’t have any more problems.” I collected the tools I had strewn around while I had been working and deposited them back in my toolbox, wiping off the sweat dotting my brow with the back of my hand. “Lead the way, Mrs. K. Let’s go see if I’m worth anything as an electrician.”
“Oh, my dear boy, you were here within an hour of me calling you. That’s worth more to me than you can ever know,” she clucked as she hobbled back up the wooden stairs and into her kitchen. “Would you like some iced tea?”
“No thanks, ma’am.” I crossed to the counter with her kettle on it and plugged it back in. Sucking in a quick breath, I held it as I flipped the switch and waited for the power to kick on again.
When the lights remained on, I released the breath and felt my lips hook into a smile I just couldn’t hold back. “So far, so good. Call me in a couple of days just to let me know you’re still doing okay. I’ll check back in with you later this week too.”
Relief coursed through my veins as I picked up my toolbox and carried it outside. This job meant more to me than Mrs. Kilkenny knew … not necessarily her particular job but being an electrician in general.
It had taken me a hell of a long time to get here, and every job I took now was one step closer to where I wanted to be. Already, the cherry red truck I had bought a couple of months ago was a very real sign that things were finally looking up for me.
“Thank you, William,” Mrs. Kilkenny said as she followed me out her front door. “You’re such a kind young man. I don’t know what I would have done without you.”
The name’s Will, but I didn’t bother correcting her again. The only people who had ever called me William were the authority figures: the social workers, the courts, and my foster parents. None of them had left me with many great memories of being called by that name.
Mrs. Kilkenny, however, refused to call me by anything else. “Sure thing, Mrs. K. I’ll be speaking to you soon.”
“Remember to send me your invoice,” she called after me when I turned and walked to my truck. I shot her a smile and a thumbs-up over my shoulder, but I wouldn’t be billing for this job. As much as I needed the money, it had been a quick fix and I couldn’t bring myself to take money from an octogenarian who was as sweet as her.
As I approached my truck, a familiar figure wearing a worn black ball cap and an easy smile rounded from the other side. “You’re such a kind boy, Will. What would we do without you?”
I heaved the toolbox over the edge and onto the truck’s bed, then lifted my middle finger at the man I considered my brother. “Fuck off with that, Rayce. What are you doing here anyway?”
“I was just in the neighborhood.” His gray-blue eyes were crinkled at the corners, his lips tipped into his perpetual near smirk. If I hadn’t known him any better, I’d have thought he really had just been in the neighborhood and stopped to say hi when he saw my truck.
I did know him better, though. So, so much better. “Yeah, right. If that’s true, then the pope’s no longer Catholic.”
Rayce snorted a laugh, sticking his hands into the pockets of his jeans. “I wouldn’t know, bro. Haven’t been to church since Mrs. Goodkind took us to repent for our sins.”
“Like she was one to judge,” I muttered, shutting the shitty memories of our foster mother out of my mind before they could take hold and ruin my day. Or my week. Fucking sick bitch.
Rayce and I hadn’t had such a bad time in foster care, unlike so many other kids had, but Mrs. Goodkind’s interest in us also hadn’t been exactly motherly either. Especially toward Rayce, who at eight years older than I was, had been the oldest kid in the house when I had arrived.
Odd things kept happening back then, like his clothes often disappeared from the bathroom while he was in the shower, forcing him to make a run for it in nothing but the tiny, threadbare towels she had given us. Somehow, she was always nearby for the dash but never close enough to hear his cries for help when he realized his clothes were gone.
Those were some of the tamer memories, however. Even if she hadn’t been the worst out there by a long shot, it had still been pretty damn uncomfortable growing up in her home.
Thank God for Rayce. He had taken me under his wing when I was five years old and had kept me safely there ever since. Well, maybe not always safely, but I was safer there than anywhere else. At only thirteen himself at the time, he had always been wiser and seemed older than his years. System would do that to you.
“Yeah.” Rayce chuckled, but the sound was dark and not at all amused. The gray won out over the blue in his eyes, making them seem pale and dull. Women went crazy over the way Rayce’s eyes seemed to change color, but to me, it had always been a warning sign when it happened. “I think she only took us to repent for ours in the hopes that it somehow absolved her of hers where we were concerned.”
“Probably.” I huffed out a sigh and rolled my neck from side to side, trying to dislodge the sudden tension knotting my muscles. “Let’s quit fucking around and get the hell off of memory lane. You know I don’t like it there. What are you really doing here, bro? You’ve got that look in your eyes.”
“I haven’t got shit in my eyes, man.” He scoffed but screwed them shut for a second before opening them and refocusing on me. The blue was back, but it was ice-cold and didn’t do much for the bad feeling rolling into my gut. “I’m here because I need your help.”
Fuck. The bad feeling exploded and flooded my very blood, leaving me wishing it was still only in my damn gut. “I have a life now, Ray. You know that. I can’t help you anymore.”
A life which had bought me my shiny new truck even if I was still stuck in a shitty apartment on the wrong side of town. At least the truck was mine and had branding on it for my legitimate business as an electrician, and while the apartment was shitty, it was my very own space. No roommates, no creepy old women eyeing my junk whenever they got the chance, and no one stealing my shit.
“I don’t have anyone else, Will.” Rayce’s jaw tightened, his shoulders lifting in a slight shrug. “I need you.”
And there they were, the words that would be my undoing for the rest of goddamn time. If Rayce needed me, I would be there. No matter what, because he had always been there for me. No matter what.
The guy had practically raised me. If it hadn’t been for him, I had no idea what would have become of me the day I walked out of Mrs. Goodkind’s home without two cents to rub together, not much of an education, and no real skills to speak of.
The skills I did have weren’t exactly the marketable kind, unless I planned on going into business pleasuring women or petty thievery. Both of which might have been my only viable options for survival under the circumstances. If not for Rayce.
“Okay, I’m in.” At least the thievery wasn’t petty. The scores we got nowadays could have kept us going for months without us having to earn another cent. “When?”
“An hour?” The glint I had come to associate with Rayce’s love for the thrill of the game appeared in his eyes, his shoulders squaring again now that I had agreed to the job.
As much as I promised myself each job was the last one, Rayce never seemed to tire of living that life. Tension coiled like a hungry snake in my stomach at the timeline for this one, but Rayce was here and he was asking, which meant everything else was set.
It wasn’t like I needed time to prepare for his jobs anymore. Same shit, different day. “Okay, follow me home to drop off the truck and then I can grab my stuff.”
Rayce nodded, cupping his hands along the rim of his cap as he cast a surreptitious glance around us to make sure no one had overheard our quiet conversation. When he was satisfied there was no one hovering around near us—not that they would have been able to decipher the first thing about what we were about to do based on what we had said—he nodded before jogging to his SUV parked down the street.
Less than an hour later, we were sitting in yet another unmarked van in front of yet another bank that was about to be relieved of a part of their daily cash intake. Just another day in paradise.
I sighed, zipping up my black hoodie and fixing my cloth mask to my face. There was a new guy sitting in the back of the van in the process of doing the same things I had just done. The difference between us was the fear in his eyes and the visible pulsing of the vein in his neck.
I no longer felt fear before these jobs. Neither did Rayce.
If anything, there was pure excitement radiating from his side of the van where he sat behind the steering wheel. He looked up, meeting my eyes in the rearview mirror and then the pale-green ones of the new guy. “You guys ready?”
New guy, whose name I neither knew nor wanted to know, nodded. I rolled my eyes at Rayce. “I don’t even know why you bother asking, bro. Let’s go.”
“Okay, boys. Let’s go make more money than we could anywhere else on this beautiful Tuesday afternoon. This security guard is a rookie, doesn’t have a clue what he’s doing so this will be a breeze.” Rayce grinned and shot me a wink. “In and out. Just like you the night you lost your virginity.”
Flipping him off yet again, I hopped out of the van and slammed the door behind me. Rayce laughed, remarkably relaxed for a guy who was about to rob a fucking bank.
As we reached for the guns in the waistbands of our pants, I slapped him on the back of his head. “I don’t know how many times I have to tell you, that’s not how it went down.”
“Sure it wasn’t.” He motioned to New Guy to fall in line before throwing open the double doors in front of him and sticking the hand with his gun in it in the air like he was in a fucking movie. “All right, folks, if nobody moves, nobody gets shot.”
The interior of the bank went completely quiet after his bellowing warning and the rapid fire of the three shots he fired off after. The patrons turned to him as if their strings were all being pulled by the same puppet master, jaws dropping before they went stock-still.
Rayce marched right by them, smirking as he pointed the gun almost playfully at people when he passed them. “As long as nobody moves, nobody gets hurt.”
Working quickly, New Guy and I rounded up the unlucky customers and arranged them sitting down on the floor. While I collected phones and kept my eyes peeled for any suspicious behavior, Rayce hit up the cashiers.
We worked together like a well-oiled machine, with the exception of New Guy, who was sneering at an elderly man. I got to his side just as he was about to slam the guy with the base of his gun. I grabbed onto his elbow and kept my voice low enough that no one else would be able to hear us.
“What the fuck is wrong with you?”
“He insulted us,” New Guy defended his idiotic behavior, but I gave him a sharp look before releasing him.
“Of course he is. We’re robbing his fucking bank. Get your shit together, asshole.” I stomped away from him to join Rayce at the counter, picking up one of the bags he’d already filled with cash while discreetly checking on the man New Guy had been about to hit.
His cheeks were flushed, but the asshole had heeded my warning and moved on. Thank fuck.
Robbing the bank was one thing, injuring people was quite another in my book. I didn’t get off on violence or blood. I didn’t even particularly like having a gun in my hand. It was simply an occupational hazard, as far as I was concerned.
Less than ten minutes after we’d entered, we were back outside and racing toward our getaway vehicle: a beat-up, old brown Honda, this time apparently registered to a man old enough to be our grandfather. We abandoned the van, a move Rayce and I had been doing for years.
As we piled into the Honda, Rayce extracted a small device from his pocket and pressed a button embedded in the plastic. I watched in the side mirror of the car as the van we’d arrived in blew up, exploding in a smallish ball of orange fire just as Rayce gently stepped on the gas.
Not surprisingly or unexpectedly, a heavy mantle of guilt settled itself around my shoulders and in my chest while Rayce drove us away as calmly as if we were taking a Sunday afternoon drive. We had all pulled off our gear as soon as we had reached the car, and now just looked like a couple of casually dressed guys on our way to a bar.
But we weren’t. I didn’t know about New Guy, but Rayce and I hadn’t been quite that innocent in a long, long time. With every robbery I was involved in, the guilt afterward got worse.
It crept into my chest cavity and grew until it was so big it felt like it was crushing my lungs. I had to get out of this game for once and for all, or very soon the guilt was going to deflate my lungs for good and then where would I be?
Dead, that’s where. Dead or imprisoned. I honestly didn’t know which was worse.
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