The door popped open with a twist of the handle as Emile tucked his pick and tension wrench into his pocket, and Philip barged in.
Wet feet squelched against hard wood floors, and the two teenage boys shared mischievous grins as the door shut behind them. Bayou St. John was already beginning to flood and the young thieves couldn’t have come at a better time to start looting.
They took towels out of their black backpacks and wiped themselves down, then flung the rags on the hardwood and dried their feet along with wiping the floors. Philip was all eager energy as he hurriedly stuffed the towel back into his bag.
“I call bedrooms!” he shouted gleefully as he ran across the homeowner’s living room, disappearing up the stairs. Emile puffed out a routine sigh. He compactly folded his own towel into his backpack before following the other boy, ready to reprimand his rookie friend when he undoubtedly did something stupid.
Philip came tumbling into his gutter from a good home a few weeks ago just because he thought the life of a thief was more ‘entertaining.’ Admittedly, he had sticky-fingers skilled enough to pickpocket someone in skinny jeans, but Philip was downright stupid. Not in school of course, he constantly mocked Emile when he didn’t know big words like 'dilapidated' or things of the sort, but he was stupid in the street smarts department.
The other boy always had a big smile on while doing the job – making him more suspicious than a boy just frowning like he had a bad day – and ran away too soon and too quickly for a person acting innocent. He liked to pick fights and barely wore any face disguises. Sometimes, Emile wondered why he didn’t just dump him on another thief in the network, but in the end, Philip always managed to pull his own weight and they got their orders done with.
When Emile finished scaling up the stairs, he came into a room that looked like it belonged to a child – soft colored walls, toys strewn across the floor – and immediately noticed a stuffed bear sitting on a shelf right next to the door. He eyed it oddly and plucked it off its perch. It looked like a bear his mother gave to him when he was a kid – before the car accident. That was nearly nine years ago, when he was just eight.
He forgot what happened to the old, dusty thing. Did those awful in-laws sell it? Did he sell it? A memory was itching at the back of his mind as he stared into the glass eyes of the cotton toy.
“An ol’ maid…” Emile muttered to himself quietly, trying to bring to mind a thought that he knew was important somehow. His reverie did not last, however, when he heard something in the room splinter.
“What are ya doing, ya idgit?!” Emile scolded as he caught Philip untwisting some cords and trying to tug a TV out of the wall at the same time. “Ya can’t lift a dang wide screen!”
“Well, then, help me out!” Philip grunted.
“Tha’s not the point,” Emile growled as he pinched his nose in exasperation, the other hand still holding the bear. “Flood insurance doesn’t exactly cover yanked out TVs. It’s just a pile o’ dead weight!”
“It’s a pile of cha-ching in our pockets!”
“What kind of fool would actually buy a wide screen from a bunch o’ street rats?”
“A stupid one, obviously. Now will you just shut up and help me take it down?”
Emile was about to explain again that this plan was stupid and would not work and spiel out the usual lecture of how being impulsive was not a good trait of a thief – but then a door clicked.
The two boys glanced at each other in panic. Philip released the TV, letting it dangle hazardously, then harshly shoved himself and Emile into a shutter closet across the room. Emile huffed as he was squished inside the cramp space made even worse with their backpacks on.
“Mr. Scribbles!” The voice of a young girl rang out. “Where are you?!” They heard tiny footfalls race up the stairs and both boys held their breaths as she entered the room.
Through the slits of the closet they saw a small girl, no more than six years old, wearing a green raincoat designed with leaping frogs jumping back and forth. The bright red tips of her hair stuck to the plastic material of the coat’s collar, drenched, while the top of her head was dry and intact. She must have taken off her hood after she got in the house. Water trailed behind her as she walked into her room.
Emile recognized the girl as the daughter of the couple who left nearly half-an-hour ago as they were spying on the house. What was she doing coming back here?! Emile glanced at Philip who looked equally shocked but mostly angry. He could guess exactly what the other teen was feeling. Getting a perfect plan ruined by an unsuspecting civilian could seriously piss someone off, especially if it was a kid, because if they were there their parents weren’t far behind.
Luckily, by the looks of it, she either didn’t see the dangling TV or just didn’t care.
The little girl gasped and slapped her fat cheeks when she saw the empty shelf. “Where’s Mr. Scribbles?!” She screamed furiously.
Unluckily, she noticed that.
Emile looked at the bear in question he held in his lap. “Shit,” he groaned.
“Charlotte, c’mon, we have to go the water’s rising!” another female voice yelled. It must have been the little girl’s mother.
“Not without Mr. Scribbles!” Charlotte shrieked. She ran into the hallway and looked down the stair banister to shout at her mother directly. “I can’t find him!”
The mother groaned loudly. “Charlotte, sweetie, you know Mr. Scribbles isn’t suppose to move off his shelf! Take Mr. Cottontail instead.”
“But Mr. Scribbles is my protector, remember! I can’t leave without him!” Charlotte ran towards the opposite side of the second floor and started probing around like a blood hound.
Philip rounded on him, “You took the bear?!” he hissed crossly.
“I didn’t mean to!” Emile defended himself. “I was holdin’ it when ya shoved me into the closet!”
“Well, put it back!”
“The girl’s still on tha floor. We can’t risk it!”
“Give me the bear, Emile,” Philip spoke darkly.
“What?! No, ya just gonna end up givin’ us away!”
“Charlotte!” The mother exclaimed, “If you don’t come down right now, I’m going up after you!” Emile could hear her take her first threatening footstep on the creaky, wooden staircase.
Philip looked at him determined, wild. “Give me the bear!” He launched himself at Emile and they began fighting each other in the small space, Emile insisting that the girl would just go away if they waited long enough and Philip arguing that chucking the stupid toy at her head would solve all their problems.
“LET’S GO, CHARLOTTE, HURRY!” the mother shouted.
“HOLD ON!” Charlotte cried back. Her foot steps were returning. Philip took his chance. He grabbed the bear out of Emile’s hands then burst out of the closet and hurled the stuffed toy into the hallway as hard as he could before jumping back into the cramped space and shutting the doors. Emile closed his eyes. He heard a metallic clanking noise.
Suddenly, he pulled Philip into a furious bear-hug and clamped a hand around his mouth before he could yelp. “Shit, we gotta ge’ that bear back,” he whispered in panic.
Philip’s voice was muffled but Emile could clearly hear him grumble, “What? Why?!”
“That bear,” Emile jabbed a finger at the offending object through the shutter doors, “just clanked. It has a metal head. Do y’know what that means?” He sighed lowly when Philip just looked at him more confused than before. “It’s a Nanny Cam you idjit!” Philip’s face contorted into a mixture of realization and fearful urgency.
“Mr. Scribbles, there you are!” Charlotte squeaked in glee as she found the bear lying in the hallway, not caring how it seemingly appeared out of nowhere. “Mom! I found him!”
“That’s great, Charlotte, now come on, we have to go!”
The boys waited to hear the closing click of the front door before slumping down. But Emile’s heart was still thrashing like a snare drum. Wasting no time he got up and hoisted Philip up off the ground as he opened the shutter doors. “C’mon!” he urged as he motioned for the other boy to follow him. They had to get out of the house before the parents even got the thought to check the camera.
Emile rushed over to the casement window to the right and subtly checked if the coast was clear under the cover of the see-through green curtains. It was still raining. He saw a fence but no road or river and quickly determined they were on the side of the house. There was no landing or roof under the window, just an eleven foot drop into some thorn bushes.
Philip quickly jiggled the window open and saddled the bottom frame hastily.
“What’re you doin’? We can’t make that jump!”
“Yeah we can!” Philip insisted. “Just not without a few broken bones,” a smirk spread across his face like being mortally wounded was like getting a paper cut. Oh, Emile was definitely going dump his ass on another thief after this.
He was about to argue that they could just run back down the stairs and sprint across the backyard, hop some fences until they were far enough and could call someone from the network nearby, when Philip grabbed him by the collar of his shirt. He leaned back and they dived side-first into the bushes.
Emile screamed. As he barreled through the wet air, pellets of water hitting his face – the feeling of falling making it hard to breath – he thought that dying of a heart attack was a pretty lame way of cashing in his chips.
At the very last second he twisted around to land on his backpack and prayed for the best. With a jarring shock into his back and through his chest Emile crashed into the shrubbery, the thorns digging into the back of his calves. He didn’t particularly feel them though, adrenaline was doing its job, for now. A few feet away, he saw Philip on his stomach in the grass, but it was clear that he had rolled into that position after the fall judging from how damaged his backpack was. He let out a sigh he didn’t know he was holding.
Emile shifted his weight and collapsed onto the short-trimmed grass as well. He inhaled the sent of a freshly rained-on lawn and reveled in the feeling of laying on a flat surface that wasn’t a soiled alleyway. The shower of rain around him cleared his head. They crashed on the shrubbery before he could punch Philip in the face. He did so now.
“Argh!” Philip shouted. His right hand held his face as his left clutched his right bicep in pain. He must’ve landed on it. Emile slapped him there again. “God, would you stop!”
Emile glowered down at Philip lividly as he moved up into a kneeling position slowly. Blood was crawling down the exposed back of his neck and coiling its way along his spine. Ripped off vines dug in and spiked out of his hair like some kind of crown a court jester would wear. He grunted as he tried to stand up, every single muscle in his body resisting his movements. Philip looked up at him concerned and he struggled to get up to meet his gaze.
“Hey, man, –”
Philip crossed his arms stiffly, irritated. “Look, we’re all fine and dandy. No broken bones, right? Don’t get your damn panties in a twist and let’s just get out of here.”
“Ya’ nearly damn killed us,” Emile deadpanned.
“But I didn’t,” Philip pointed out. “C’mon, asswipe, let’s –” Emile tensed as he heard the sound of a gun being cocked.
“DON’T MOVE!” A barrel of a nine millimeter met their faces, a wide-based surly man with a curly red beard behind it. Red like the little girl's hair. Emile’s eye twitched and he glared at Philip with a soured face clearly expressing that this was all his fault. Philip didn’t even blink and boredly raised his hands in defeat as he maintained eye contact with Charlotte’s father.
“Well,” Philip drawled, “crap.”