Sunday, May 19, 2013

Ruth Long Week 47: How To Rob A Thief

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Picture 2

Ruth Long’s Picture Choice: Two

Title: How To Rob A Thief

“I’m sorry the transition was so sudden,” Haley said, from what she hoped was a safe distance. “I’m having a bit of trouble with forward calibrations.”

He turned and fixed her with a cool grey stare. “One minute, I’m walking through the theater with a woman on each arm and the next I’m standing at the edge of a wheat field with a stranger. Your faulty calibrations couldn’t possibly get any worse.”

Her cheeks flushed. “Actually, they could, but I’m sure you have some pressing questions about the situation -”

He interrupted her. “Is this part of that new witness relocation program that nobody is supposed to know about but everybody is talking about?”

She blinked. “Relocation?”

“Never mind. Let’s try something easier. Are you going to refund the thirty cents I paid for that movie ticket.”

“Oh. Well, I hadn’t thought of that. If you’ll just let me explain -”

“Do you know who I am?”

She rolled her eyes. “Of course -”

“Then you’d better hope your backward calibrations are more precise than your forward because if I’m not back inside the Biograph in sixty seconds -”

“I can’t put you back.”

He came towards her. “What’s going on here?”

“I can’t put you back or they’ll kill you again.”

He stopped. “What?”

“Please, let me explain it to you over a cup of coffee in town.”

He grabbed her arm, fingers harsh, knuckles white. “What about Polly and Anna?”

“They’ll be fine. The only person who dies today is you. Well, if you’re there, that is.”

He loosened his grip. “There being Chicago, which this isn’t. So, where are we?”


He let go of her and eyed their surroundings. “This isn’t 1934 either, is it?”

“No, it’s 2005.”

He rubbed his neck. “Lady, I believe I’ll take that cup of coffee now.”

She let out a breath she didn’t know she’d been holding. “Listen, I know this is a bit much at the moment but it’s better than what fate had in store for you.”

He nodded to the compact car beside the road. “That yours? My Terraplane has so much more style and power. So far, the future is far less impressive than I’d imagined.”

“In that case, I guess you don’t want to drive,” she said, heading for the car.

“Oh, you can bet I’m going to drive. Toss me the keys. And quit looking at me like I’m going to hurt you. Yeah, I’m ticked off and not sure what the hell is going on, but I have never raised my hand to a lady. My voice, maybe a time or two, but never my hand.”

“I know,” she said, getting into the passenger seat and buckling up. “I read that about you.”

He put the key in the ignition but didn’t turn it. “You read about me?”

“Sure. Read everything I could get my hands on. Biographies. Newspaper clippings. Court records. Medical examiner’s -”

The cold gaze came back. “Go on. Tell me how I die.”

She held his gaze. “Three bullets as you leave the theater.”

“Do I suffer?”

“Death was instantaneous.”

“Tell me it wasn’t Purvis.”

She shook her head. “No, it wasn’t.”

“Well, damn him anyway, and that rat bastard Hoover too.”

He started the car, pulled onto the road, and drove in silence until a town loomed on the horizon. The kind of town with picket fences, manicured lawns, and Detroit’s latest product in the driveway.

“Take a left at the first stop sign. There are a couple coffee houses and a half dozen restaurants. Pick whatever you’d like.”

“You going to tell me your name?”

“Haley Merritt.”

“I’d say it’s a pleasure to meet you but I’m not so sure yet.”

She eyed the passing restaurants. “Any of these places look good to you?”

“What are those,” he asked.

She followed his gaze. “Oh. They’re drive-thrus. You place your order from the car, pick up the food at the window, and drive off.”

“That’s what I want. Look at these people. Look at their cars and stores and cafes. I’m not getting out of this car and sitting down to dinner across from them.”

“See that sign with the green circle? Pull in there. And use this card to pay. Your money is no good here.”

One of his hands came off the steering wheel and punched the seat. “My money is no good here? My money? The money I gained by the force of my personality? The money I built my legacy on? The money I fought and bled and nearly died for? Damn, you, Miss Merritt. Damn you to hell.”

Other than the few words it took him to order their drinks, he didn’t speak again until he pulled the car into a hotel parking lot at the end of town. “Now, we can talk things out here in the car or up in one of those rooms, but we aren’t going anywhere or doing anything until we get this situation cleared up.”

She fussed with her watch. “This isn’t as easy as I thought it would be.”

His laugh was a short bark. “I don’t know what ‘this’ is yet but easy isn’t even on the drawing table.”

“I think better when I’m walking,” she said, glancing up at him.”

He opened the door, dropped the keys in his pocket, and came around to her door to help her out. But instead of letting her move away from the car he pinned her in. “Who are you?”

She held as still as possible. “I already told you. Haley Merritt.”

“That’s your name, not who you are. I want to know what you do? Are you one of Hoover’s agents?”

“No. I’m a scientist.”

“What kind of scientist hijacks a man’s history?”

“A desperate one.”

He tipped her chin up. “What would make a smart gorgeous woman like you so damn desperate?”

“My mother is sick and there isn’t anything I could do to help her.”

He moved, leaning up against the car beside her.”Is sick? Couldn’t help? You’re tenses are all tangled up.”

She sighed. “This time travel thing gets confusing.”

“You’re telling me. I’ve been doing it less than an hour and I already want to punch something.”

“I’ve been inside three years in the last two hours. I left 2012, retrieved you from 1934, and brought us to 2005, to a neutral point before the trouble started.”

“I suppose tenses are the least of your problem, hmm?”

She smiled up at him. “I read that you were good humored. Didn’t expect to get to see it.”

“You didn’t bring me here for entertainment though, did you? What is it you want me to do?”

“The reason I can’t help my mama is that the bankers drained thousands of retirements accounts, including my parent’s, and now they don’t have the money she needs for treatment. I brought you here to help me steal my dad’s money before the bank does.”

“I don’t understand.”

“If I could steal dad’s retirement fund and put it somewhere secure, it will be there when they need it. And I got to thinking, who better to rob a thief than the greatest thief in history?”

“And why would I help you?”

She put a hand on his forearm. “Because if you do I promise to retrieve Billie for you.”

He sucked in his breath like she’d punched him. “Shut up.”

“But I can get to her before they arrest -”

He grabbed her around the waist and pinned her to the car.“I said shut up. I told you I’d never raised my hand to a lady but if you say her name again, I’m not sure I can stop myself.”

“Forgive me. After everything I read, I thought that I had figured out how to motivate you to, that offering you the one thing -”

“That’s just it. You figured. You used your little scientific brain to analyze me like a lab rat. Another faulty calibration, Miss Merritt. Emotions like love and passion can’t be measured or quantified. They can only be experienced and demonstrated.”

She had no rebuttal for that.

“And while we’re clarifying things, won’t my presence here, outside my timeline, change history?”


“No? Just like that? So everything science taught us goes out the window because Processor Merritt says so? Even if she only says so because it suits her, because it’s what she hopes for, because she wills it to so?”

“I said ‘no’ because I haven’t seen any adverse effects.”

“And how many tests have you run? How times have you gone skipping through time? And who, besides you, is collecting and analyzing the data for all these trips?”

She kicked the dirt. “Do you really care? I just saved your life. Who are you to complain or question me?! And who are you to deny me a favor?”

“I’m the man who may have lost his legacy because of you. And I ask you again – for what?”

“For a fresh start. Isn’t that what everyone wants?”

“Not me.”

“You’d rather I left you there to die, gunned down in the street like a rabid dog and laid out in the morgue for thousands of gawkers to parade past?”

He let go of her and stepped away. “You’re a real piece of work, lady,” he said, heading for the sidewalk, “and trust me, I’m using that term loosely.”

She went after him. “Wait! Where are you going?”

He kept walking. “Got nowhere to go, thanks to you, but you said walking helps you think and I’m hoping it does the same for me.”

“Please help me save my mother, John. I can’t sit by and watch her die a long slow painful death.”

“Have you thought any of this through? You stole my life to save your mother’s. You stole my legacy and money to preserve your family’s legacy and money. You’re so focused on getting revenge - “

“Damn straight! I want to bring those bankers to their knees! I want their every waking moment to be filled with terror and their nights spent sleepless for fear of nightmares, and who terrifies banks more than John Dillinger?”

He came to a stop. “How do we even know what my name evokes at this point, Miss Merritt? Maybe yanking me out of the Biograph changed everything in that timeline. Maybe disappearing from your timeline changed everything. Or maybe screwing with the timeline this year fixes your parent’s financial problems but causes other problems for them?”

“I’m not a bloody idiot. I harnessed time, damn it! And all those years I was working on it, breaking the laws of physics, I was also researching you, going over the details of you life again and again, to reassure myself you were the right candidate. I spent years focused on this goal, passing up work promotions, a social life, and even the hope of having my own family. I gave up everything for this.”

He grabbed her wrist and pulled her towards him. “I’ll do it on one condition.”

“Yes. Whatever it is, the answer is yes.”

“You might want to let me finish before you give your answer. My condition is that you come with me.”

“To rob the bank? No! Absolutely not!”

“Unless you get your hands dirty, my little science whiz, I won’t employ mine on your behalf.”

“But - I wouldn’t have any idea what I was doing.”

“Haven’t you heard? 2005 is a brave new world, one where you open yourself up to experience and let emotion wreck you. And then you get up the next day and do it all over again.”

She closed the gap between them until she was so close her breath agitated his eyelashes. “Fine. I’ll dirty my hands with you, Johnnie, but when we’re done, I’m going to take you to Billie’s grave and you are going to stand beside that little white cross and pay your respects.”

He raised his hand to her, sank it into her hair like an anchor, and crushed his mouth to hers.


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A reader by birth, paper-pusher by trade and novelist by design, story-telling in my passion. If you enjoyed reading today's story, please consider checking out my blog, joining my creative community or participating in the madcap twitter fun @bullishink.


1 comment:

  1. “Never mind. Let’s try something easier. Are you going to refund the thirty cents I paid for that movie ticket.” That's just awesome. I can hear Dillinger saying it!
    This is such a fun ride, Ruth. The dialogue is fantastic and I love the crackling pace...