This story is by Tim Grahl and won an honorable mention in our 2017 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the Spring Writing Contest stories here.
He bolted upright in bed and peered into the darkness, listening. After a few seconds, he shook his head and started to lay back down, but the pounding sound came back.
He threw off his sheets and hurried down the short hallway in his boxers, flipping on lights as he went.
The pounding grew more frantic.
He heard the wind howling against the house and sirens in the distance.
He put his eye against the peephole and jumped back when the door shook again under the pounding.
He looked through again, paused, sighed, and put in the code to turn off the alarm and opened the door.
As soon as there was a crack, the door shoved open, and a small man came into the room. He pushed back his hood to reveal small black eyes and shook the rain off his coat.
“Tommy, what are you doing here?”
“Can’t a guy come visit his buddy?” Tommy asked.
“In the middle of the night?”
“Yeah, Ryan. I was out and thought I’d come by. You used to be a night owl, remember?”
Red and blue flashed across the curtains. Tommy flinched at the lights.
“You want some coffee?” Ryan asked.
“Why not? I’m up now.”
As soon as Ryan’s back was turned, Tommy pulled a small pouch out of his jacket pocket and shoved it into his faded jeans. Then he took off his coat and hung it on the hook next to the door. He pulled off his beat up work boots and left them on the mat and then joined Ryan in the kitchenette. He sat on one of the stools at the high top table.
Silence fell between them as Ryan fiddled with the espresso machine.
He pulled them each a shot into mini coffee cups and then joined Tommy.
“So, what’s new with you?” Ryan asked as he slid the saucer and cup across the table.
Tommy glanced over his shoulder again, then picked up the cup. His hand started to shake, and he put it down without drinking.
Ryan lifted his own cup to his lips and took a sip.
“Not much,” Tommy finally answered. “Same old. The guys wonder why you never come by the Dive anymore.”
Ryan rolled his eyes.
“You know why.”
“I do. And, hey, I get it. But we used to see you all the time, and now you’ve moved here and got your job, and I guess they think you’re too good for them now.”
Ryan shrugged and then took another sip.
“You think you’re too good for us, Ryan?”
“Come on Tommy, why are you giving me shit about this? You would have done the same as me.”
“Yeah, well, I never had the chance, did I?”
“Keep telling yourself that, if it makes you feel better.”
Silence fell between the two men. They focused on sipping their coffees.
More sounds of sirens floated into the room. It seemed like they were circling closer.
Tommy sat rigidly.
Ryan sighed again.
“Out with it, Tommy.”
“You can’t bullshit me, man. Never could. Why’re you here?”
“I told you …”
“You ain’t seen me in, what? A year? And you decide to stop by in the middle of the night when it’s pissing rain, and there are sirens circling my block?”
Tommy shrugged and chewed on his lip. He couldn’t help but glance over his shoulder again at the window.
“I’ve been thinking a lot about when we were kids,” Tommy said staring down at the table.
“Yeah. All the shit we used to stir.”
Ryan didn’t respond.
Tommy lifted just his eyes to Ryan.
“Been thinking about Ms. Margaret.”
Ryan’s lips went white, and he clenched his fists.
“Why are you bringing that up Tommy?”
“Just been thinking about it—no reason—just thinking how I was there for you man.”
Tommy paused, then continued.
“Cause we’re friends. ‘To the end’ is what you said.”
Ryan sat very still in his chair staring at Tommy. Waiting.
A full minute passed.
“I fucked up, Ryan.”
Ryan opened his mouth to answer, but he stopped. A pounding was coming from outside. They both jumped up and moved quickly to the window.
Two doors down, two cops were standing on the porch.
One of them pounded on the door again.
“They’re across the street too,” Ryan said.
Sure enough, there was another duo standing under the covered porch talking to one of Ryan’s neighbors.
Tommy stepped back quickly from the door.
“Turn off the lights,” Tommy hissed.
Ryan shot him a nasty look as he backed up from the window.
Tommy took a step towards the light switch by the front door, but Ryan grabbed his collar and pulled him back.
“You idiot,” Ryan said. “They’ll have already seen the lights on. It’d look suspicious if they turned off right before they got here.”
“Right, right,” Tommy said. He was breathing heavily.
Ryan shoved Tommy towards the hallway.
“Come on back to the bathroom.”
They crowded into the bathroom and kept the light off.
“Out with it,” Ryan said.
“It was an accident.”
“Look, man. Craig got a job at Pearlman. You know, in the mall?”
“Well, he’s been feeding us the info on his customers that bought the higher-end pieces.”
Ryan let out an exasperated sigh in the dark.
“You fucking idiots,” he said.
“It’s been working fine. We just slide in, grab the piece, and we’re out.”
“And you decided to do it at night when they’re home in their bedroom where, you know, most people keep their jewelry.”
“No, man! They were supposed to be out of town. Craig heard them. I even staked out the place today and saw them load up the suitcases.”
“So, what happened?”
“Well, I guess it was just the husband that was leaving, cause the wife was home. She woke up as soon as I came in the room and started freaking out.”
“No, shit? She freaked out when a strange little man came in her room at midnight?”
“Shut up, Ryan; it was a mistake. She pulled a fucking gun out of her drawer and got a shot off at me. I dove at her to get the gun and … and …”
Ryan tried to make out his face in the dark.
“She dead?” Ryan asked.
“It was an accident!”
“Oh, hell. And the first thing you thought to do was come get me involved?”
“It was just a couple blocks over. What else was I supposed to do?”
Before Ryan could answer, there was a loud pounding on his front door.
Ryan glanced out of the bathroom, then looked back at Tommy.
“Did you at least get the jewelry?” Ryan asked.
“Hell no, man. I got out of there.”
Ryan narrowed his eyes at him.
There was another bang against the door.
“Alright, get in the shower and close the curtain.”
Tommy nodded and did as he was told.
Ryan shut the bathroom door then went and opened the front door. The cop’s fist was raised to pound on the door again.
“Oh,” the first cop said, “good evening. I’m Officer Bryant. This is Officer Fitz. Sorry to wake you.”
“No worries,” said Ryan, ”I was up.”
“Why’s that?” Fitz said.
“Couldn’t sleep, the sirens kept waking me up.”
“Mind stepping outside so we can have a conversation?” Bryant asked.
“I’m in my underwear. I’d rather my neighbors not get to know me that well.”
“Why don’t you throw on some pants and join us out here.”
Ryan shut the door and came back and opened the bathroom door. He reached around and pulled his pants off the hook.
“Hang tight, Tommy. I’ll get rid of them.”
Tommy nodded , but Ryan had already stepped back into the hallway to pull on his pants. He opened the door and stepped outside.
After a few seconds, Tommy moved the curtain back and carefully stepped out of the shower. He cracked the door open and peeked around the doorframe. He could see Ryan out on the porch with the two cops.
Ryan was talking, pointing down the street. The officers asked him a couple more questions to which Ryan gave short answers.
Finally, the officers tipped their hats to Ryan and turned towards the porch steps.
Ryan came back inside, then looked through the peephole.
After a few seconds, he grabbed Tommy’s shoes and coat and came back to the bathroom.
“Ok, I sent them down the street. Told them I saw someone jogging down the sidewalk in that direction.”
Tommy let out a breath he didn’t realize he’d been holding.
“Thanks so much, man!”
“This makes us more than even, got it?”
Tommy shook his head yes.
Ryan shoved the coat at Tommy, waited for him to slip on his shoes, then turned him towards the back of the house.
“You’re going out the back; then you’re going to go home and never mention to anyone that you came to my house. Got it?”
“I got it, Ryan. So sorry man. I shouldn’t have come here.”
“Yeah, you shouldn’t have.”
Ryan all but shoved Tommy down the hallway and to the back door. He reached for the doorknob, but Tommy stopped him.
“I mean it, Ryan. I knew it was wrong to come here, but I knew you’d help me. You’re the only one that’s ever looked out for me.”
Ryan pulled Tommy into a tight hug. They held each other for several seconds.
When they let go, Ryan opened the door.
“You take care of yourself, Tommy.”
Tommy stepped out on the little back porch then started hurrying down the steps. He reached a hand into his jeans pocket, then stopped.
He felt at both of his side pockets, then his back pockets. Then he stuck his hands in and slapped at all his coat pockets.
“Shit,” he hissed in a whisper, then turned back to the door.
Suddenly, a half dozen flashlights clicked on and lit him up.
Voices started yelling at him to get on his knees and freeze.
He looked up at the door. It was still open a few inches. Ryan smiled down at him and slowly shut the door.