by Mike Payne
When Ghent passed the woman at the ATM, he forgot his destination. Confident the street was theirs alone, he thought it only right to chance a quick mugging.
The woman didn’t see him coming. She wasn’t even looking up, and when he ambushed her, the astonishment that splattered her face was gorgeous. The woman was maybe 18, probably hadn’t encountered a live gun before. He had her slowly open the purse and point him to the cash. A slender wallet, puffy with bills, rested on top. As Ghent stuffed it in his jacket, he heard a cab screech round the corner. He kept still and noticed that farther up the sidewalk, an elderly man was waving ambiguously in his direction. He almost released the woman’s arms, but then the cab halted beside the man, who hopped in without paying them any mind.
Ghent flattened the woman against the wall and slipped off without coming across any pedestrians. Good fortune had underwritten him again.
He’d pulled off nine robberies that year, all of them lead-pipe cinches. He’d nearly quit the trade the previous year after circumstances compelled him to slay someone mid-mugging. Luckily, the murder never found its way to the news cycle, and thus any cops working it were unlikely to get their overtime approved. From what he could tell, he wasn’t under surveillance.
The day after the latest robbery Ghent emerged from bed around noon to hunt down a celebratory brunch. He had a ‘good luck’ ritual of buying his first post-robbery meal with a stolen bill. Out on the sidewalk the moody wind bullied the autumn leaves and garnished him with street grit. Not a day to venture far.
Near the restaurant’s entrance, Ghent spotted a beguiling woman sitting on the sidewalk with neither chair nor blanket. All she had was a sign. He figured she was panhandling, and with her looks was probably swimming in change. He got close and read the sign: “Psychic Readings.”
She caught him staring and said, “Wow!”
“I can’t tell you unless you pay.”
“Why am I not surprised?”
“I’d want to know if I were you.”
Her eyes alone could have sold him anything. Ghent was feeling flush, so he figured why not? He could write it off as an unorthodox lap dance.
He forked it over and her grin expanded beyond what her slight cheeks should have allowed.
“You’re a thief,” she said.
He chuckled nervously. “What?”
“You’re a thief. You steal. I can see it. You’ve gotten away with it so far. You’ve been asking yourself why, haven’t you?”
“Trust me, if I was a thief, I’d be professional about it, OK? Not an amateur.”
“That has nothing to do with it. Lots of criminals plan ahead, but things still get beyond their control. All those people in jail had plans too. No, what you have is a guardian devil. That’s your secret and you don’t even know it.”
“I can’t even think what–“
“You should see your eyes. They’re huge. You need to listen. Your guardian devil has saved you many times already. They can make it all seem easy. For a while.”
Ghent shrugged to pretend he wasn’t troubled. “Great, so I should be thanking my guardian devil. Fantastic.”
“That’s right, you should. It isn’t just amateur, er, regular criminals like you. Think about someone like Stalin: You think it was luck that all those people around him who wanted to take his place couldn’t kill him? How about the families of the people he killed? You think it’s just luck none of them got revenge? His guardian devil was watching out for him. Think about it and you’ll realize it makes perfect sense.”
The wind was constant now, pitching leaves across her lap.
“So everyone has a guardian angel and a guardian devil?”
“I didn’t say everyone has a guardian devil. But you do. In fact, I can see him behind you right now.”
Ghent laughed and rolled his eyes, but turned around anyway. He didn’t see anything, but did notice a spot right behind him where the leaves weren’t rustling at all.
◊ ◊ ◊
Mike Payne is a comedian and writer whose credits include Pseudopod.org. His blog: www.domikepayne.blogspot.com