Even burglars grow older. Take Casco. He was still as skinny as he’d been at eighteen – almost, anyway – but at forty-nine he’d definitely slowed down. He’d never admit that robbing a place took him much longer than it used to and carried an uncomfortable amount of risk get-away-wise. However, it was the only trade he knew. He told himself he had to rely more on brains now than speed. But brains had never been his long suit.
That’s why, when he had the brilliant idea of knocking off the pawn shop in a way that had never been done before, at least not to his knowledge, he got excited. It would require careful planning. His father always said Casco couldn’t plan a one-car funeral. Well, he’d show him.
He started by gathering intelligence from his neighbor, Jack, who worked for the gas company. “So Jack, you know a lot about heating systems, being in the gas business and all, right? How big would you say a commercial building’s heat ducts are?”
Jack looked at him like he was nuts. “Depends.”
“Hell, I don’t know. How big the building is, what kind of heating system it has, stuff like that. It’s not really my line, I read gas meters.”
Intelligence gathering wasn’t much help, so he decided to rely on his gut instinct. That hadn’t proved totally reliable in the past. There’d been a couple of little prison stints. But this time it would be different; he’d really think things through.
He didn’t mention his plans to Louisa. She worried about him when he was out on a job. So when she served up his favorite meal of red beans and rice the day of his intended foray into crime, he had to eat his usual heaping plateful washed down with a few beers so she wouldn’t suspect anything.
With what he considered a stroke of genius, he’d snagged a set of Jack’s work clothes from the backyard clothesline. The gray shirt had Municipal Natural Gas stitched on the pocket. The pants were too big, but he tucked them into his boots and cinched his belt. In that uniform he was just another invisible worker bee going about his job.
The pawn shop was located on the ground floor of a grungy two-story office building long past its glory days. There was no security of any kind when Casco slipped into the lobby late in the day. Walking around looking official gave him a chance to scope out the place. He found a cramped supply closet where he waited until everyone was gone. When there was no more noise and the security lights were the only ones left burning, he carefully stood and stretched.
Fortunately, there was a step ladder in the closet; he’d forgotten that in his planning. He set it up, ascended carefully, and removed the ceiling tile. There it was, the air duct that snaked its way throughout the building. It wasn’t as big as he’d hoped, but he was a wiry guy. Casco stood on the top step of the dangerously tippy ladder, cut an opening in the duct and squirmed his way in. He inched along in the direction of the pawn shop.
“Dang, it’s dark as the inside of a billy goat,” he muttered to himself. He had a flashlight, but it was in his back pocket and his arms were pinned at his sides. He wished he’d gotten one of those headlight thingies, but too late now. He continued to worm his way toward his goal.
Surely the duct wasn’t getting narrower? His belt kept catching on ceiling vents and then he’d have to perform a kind of shimmy to get it loose. Finally, he judged he was over the pawn shop. He peered down through another vent. Yes! The cash register was directly beneath him, glowing in the yellow night-light like a treasure chest. All he had to do now was…was…get down there somehow. But how? He was stretched full-length in the duct with no space to move his arms. The ceiling vent was maybe twelve inches square and the only way down was head-first.
Casco paused to have a little think. It was warm and his belly was full of beans and beer. His eyelids fluttered, then closed. He slept.
“Do you smell something?”
The voice jolted Casco awake. He must have been asleep for hours because daylight seeped through the vent. The pawn shop was open for business. A need to pee made itself urgently known. And not only that, his gut rumbled ominously. “Red beans coming through,” it warned. He clenched every muscle in his body.
“Yes, I definitely smell something.”
“Well, it wasn’t me. Check the bathroom, maybe the toilet backed up.”
“Nope, everything’s okay, no back up. You know, guilty people always say ‘it wasn’t me.’”
“Yeah, and guilty people always act innocent and blame someone else. There’s just the two of us here so it had to be either you or me, and it wasn’t me.”
“Dang it, I’m tellin’ you – .”
“Wait a minute. Did you hear that?”
Bickering stopped while both heads cocked to listen. There was no mistaking the sound.
“It’s coming from up there.”
When Casco saw the upturned faces he knew he’d be spending more time as a guest of the state. Maybe he’d use this stretch in the joint to learn another trade. Even burglars grow older.