This story is by E.C. Wegner and was part of our 2018 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Mr. Robinson enjoyed telling stories – no that’s not quite right – Mr. Robinson loved to tell stories to anybody who would listen. In fact, it used to be said of him that he had never known a stranger. Mr. Robinson was not sure if that was true.
Everybody seemed to be strangers now. He could never remember if he told a person the story before or not. He couldn’t remember much of anything, which was probably a good thing since he had done terrible things to the families of those who oppressed his people. Some of them were innocent. Some not. But today was different. Today was his redemption, he could feel it.
At that moment, the door swung open with a sound that only old hinges in need of oil make. The light spilled in like water through a broken dam, the shadow of a man eclipsing the light.
Tori stepped out of her lifted Chevy pick-up – no stepped is not the right way to put it – Tori leaped from her monster of a pick-up truck like a skydiver from an airplane. Her friends always said the truck was Tori’s way of compensating for her size. Right now she was more concerned with Mr. Robinson’s safety. For Tori Mr. Robinson was not just a client, he was family.
Tori kept thinking about what her partner had said at the station about the Skinner being loose in the area. She could still remember his words: “he was the most dangerous man in the state…eight dead. All done the same way.” So, Tori hurried up to the front door and…
Tori could see directly into the living room! All the way to the back wall lit by golden light from the kitchen. She cautiously walked in and headed towards the light. The sight that greeted her eyes nearly knocked her off her feet. Sitting across from Mr. Robinson was a blue jumpsuit filled out by a crew cut steely-eyed gentlemen. The man’s left hand tapped out a tune upon a plate with the razor end of a kitchen knife.
“Why don’t ya come on in and have a seat miss,” said the jumpsuit man. His high-intensity eyes never looked up at her from his three playing cards. His lips just turned upward into a wicked smirk that sent a shiver through Tori. “I’ve set a place for you uh…Terry”
“It’s Tori and who are you!” She answered.
“Now Tori, I think you know exactly who I am,” The Man said. Then he lifted the knife and motioned her toward the chair at the far end of the table.
“Sorry, I told him your name was Terry or Tanya…I can’t remember. Me and Mr. Skinner here were just playing a little game of cards” said Mr. Robinson.
“That’s right,” Mr. Skinner said as he turned to look at her. “Should we deal her in Mr. Robinson? She does look very young and tender.”
“Common and just deal me in,” she said.
“Oh, where are my manners. How ‘bout a slice of cake before we begin, miss?” Skinner gestured to the chocolate cake that resided as the centerpiece of the table.
She accepted and without saying another word Skinner deftly lifted the knife carving with precision a perfect piece of cake. Watching him cut into the cake was like watching a dance. He placed the slice of cake on the petite cream and crimson plate in front of her.
Skinner sat back in his chair, a half smile returning to his face. He shuffled and dealt Tori three cards. The kitchen knife returned to tapping again. She seemed mesmerized by the melody that knife made as it would strike the china. Then the knife stopped and he proceeded to set the stakes for the game.
“Alright, since Ms. Tori can’t take her eyes off my knife…She gets to feel its edge if I win the pot.” Skinner said, eyes focused on Tori.
“What if one of us win?” Asked Mr. Robinson.
“Then I will be no more,” Skinner answered raising the knife to his neck indicating his meaning.
So began a game of poker at the highest stakes. Mr. Robinson won the first hand with two pairs. Including a pair of jacks. The whole time Skinner focused on reading the elderly gentleman. He took note how the old man continued to bob his head like he was listening to a wicked jazz beat. After a few more hands, Skinner was just as confused.
Then there they were, just Skinner and Mr. Robinson. The last hand and the head-bobber had gone all in. It was now up to Skinner. He still had not been able to decode the old man’s quirks and all he had was two pair. Twin sixes and a paltry pair of nines. The old man’s confidence terrified him. After an agonizing moment, Skinner shoved all his chips to the center of the table.
“All in,” he said confident eyes betrayed by the sweat beading at his brow.
Mr. Robinson smiled as they both laid down their cards, his confidence unnerving Skinner almost to the boiling point. Then he noticed the cards laid in front of his opponent. A seven, eight, nine…
A straight! The old man’s won! Thought Skinner. “You better not be cheating me,” he said calmly rising, knife in hand.
“He couldn’t cheat you if he wanted to! He’d never remember to use it if he’d kept a card.” Retorted Tori.
“You have made your point miss,” Skinner said his voice calm and cold. “Looks like you get to feel my knife after all.”
He raised his knife and began to circle the table cutting off Tori’s only route of escape. At that moment Mr. Robinson rocked himself out of his chair blocking Skinner’s orbit.
“I won the pot, Mr. Skinner and the right to choose who lives,” said Mr. Robinson.
“Get out of the way old man. I know who you’d choose.”
“You sure ‘bout that?” Replied Mr. Robinson. “Cause I choose to take your place.”
Skinner froze. Not in his wildest dreams had he thought anyone would make such a choice? The old man stared at him without an ounce of fear on his face.
Skinner approached Mr. Robinson his knife rising up like it had a mind of its own. Tori stood in place feet were frozen to the floor. It was happening again. Tori unable to help someone she loved. Mr. Robinson turned to her and gave her a toothy smile before turning back to the knife. Then her mouth opened up and words came spilling out with Tori unable to stop them.
“What are you waiting for!” She said. “Can’t you tell he’s not afraid of you.”
The knife stopped. Cold edge just kissing Mr. Robinson’s leathery cheek. Skinner looked at the warm brown eyes and slightly upturned lips of the fearless face he was about to remove. The old man truly did not fear him. Skinner tried to will his hand to move, but he could not.
“Why aren’t you afraid?” He whispered.
“Afraid?” asked Mr. Robinson a look of honest confusion on his face.
“How can you not know what fear is?”
“Mr. Skinner you have to understand that it takes a hell of a lot of work for me to remember just one thing.” Started Mr. Robinson. “So if I’m gonna do all that work, it best be important. I have one thing I make sure to remember.”
Skinner’s knife dropped, his mind full of all the memories he would sell his soul to forget. He bent down to pick up the knife. The dead don’t have to remember.
“If you could remember only one thing, what would it be Mr. Skinner?” Asked the old man his baritone words stopping Skinner once more. The thunder of helicopter blades drummed in his ears and Skinner knew what he had to do.
He rose from the floor – knife in hand – and slow-marched to the door. Before he touched the handle Mr. Robinson’s voice boomed through the house.
“Aren’t you forgetin’ something?”
Skinner turned and looked at that smiling face stunned.
“I took your place, fair and square.” He continued, his head bobbing as he headed out the door.
Tori pulled her polo collar to her face and barked an order to officers beyond that door. “Stand down! Stand Down!”
Skinner was a statue unsure what had just happened as Mr. Robinson bobbed past opening the glass door.
“Wait,” he said stopping the old man midway through the doorway. “What’s the one thing?”
He turned to Skinner, looked to the sky and said with a giant of a smile:
“I’ve got the best hand.”
Then he turned back around and now the only thing I remember is his smile and the way his head bobbed as he disappeared into the sun’s white glare.