The Malibu's faded paint job mirrors the sooty interior, but the machine is not the real dirty part. It's the three human beings inside here with me if you can call them that. The speakers blare out some awful hip hop tune about beating women and getting paid. The fumes of their intoxicants they need to ingest for the courage to do this cowardly act are on me now and in me. If it weren't for that dream I wouldn't even be here.
I look up ahead at the rear view mirror. The driver switches his blood-shot eyes between me and the road.
“You all right?”
Oh sure. I am just perfect. I have never committed a crime in my life. I mean really. I never even swiped a pack of gum. I waited at that gas station counter for twenty minutes just to pay for it. No one would have even missed it. But I waited.
“Yes, Percy. I'm fine.”
Percy nods to me. He expects me to nod back. I do so to put him at ease. I knew him in high school. He has a good heart, but his exterior looks like any criminal scumbag. These two in the car with us have no depth at all. Pure hellions. And here I am the straight laced guy amongst them on our way to take what we did not earn.
Why am I here again?
I can chalk it up to poor diet, too much TV or maybe just an overall strange world view, but whatever the cause, the effect is always the same. My dreams take me places. Places I would not go in reality. I dream about getting into fights, running through red lights, getting high at parties and robbing banks. Wishful thinking maybe?
Yet always, in every single dream, I pull back. It usually occurs at the last second, but for one reason or the other, I stop myself before committing some terrible crime. I step back from it all and I decide that the act is wrong and I will not sink to a cretin's level.
But my dream two weeks ago changed my opinion.
I drifted off to a large place- maybe a mall food court or a restaurant with a giant dining room and beige brick walls. People chatted and laughed, but everyone looked like they were finished eating despite many full plates. Yet no one left. And I felt like I knew everybody in there. Even if I did not know the faces, they knew me. They nodded when I looked their way. They smiled and winked to me. Several came by my table to speak to me. The other three people at my table said nothing but we shared that comfortable silence possible only between long time friends.
A guy approached me and spoke a few words and then walked away, leaving a black bag before me.
I did not look around or check to see if anyone was watching me. I looked straight in the bag. I saw stacks of money bundled up bank-style. The tops of three stacks stopped an inch from the bag's edge. There had to be well, I'm not sure. I don't get very mathematical in my dreams. Numbers just aren't there. But I knew it was a lot, even before waking up and deducing it's worth to be over three hundred thousand dollars.
I closed the bag and took a deep breath. Once again, I did not look around. The man's words came to me.
“Get this out for us and you will get your cut, buddy.”
So I took a deep breath, rose and headed toward the back door. No one told me good-bye. They just kept on chatting like I had melted into the walls. I opened the back door and stepped out.
The blonde-haired woman approached me. In that instant, I recalled seeing her earlier in the dream- a memory specific to this dream. She told me to stop. I knew I was caught. I would drop the bag, turn around and put my hands in the air. It was the right thing to do.
I shoved her to the ground. I darted through a maze of cars and picked one. Just like all the people in the restaurant, I felt like I knew each car as if they were all mine or had been at one time. I slid into a green Malibu, placed the money bag in the passenger seat and turned the ignition.
When I woke, I hyperventilated. I guzzled two glasses of water. Something had cracked inside. Ten years of taking inventories for lousy pay and no luck at finding a wife or even any decent friends had all bottled me up. I knew I wanted an easy way out and now my moral convictions apparently were no longer a problem. The dream cleared it all up.
I called Percy that morning and told him I wanted in on whatever he was up to. He told me about the job that was to go down in two weeks. For those two weeks I could not recall any of my dreams. It felt so right.
Percy parks the Malibu. He turns to me, grabs my face in his hands and pulls me close. I feel the grime on his fingers and smell the tobacco.
“You can do this.”
“Yes, Percy. Yes I can.”
I pull the black ski mask over my face and ascend from the Malibu into the blue-black night. My two cohorts do the same. I check the strap on my black gym bag to see it is secure. They head for the right and left paddock doors of the six bent barn with their shotguns loaded and ready. I step through the center paddock door and pull out my pistol.
I find the scene is exactly what I was told to expect. Four men seated in plush orange chairs around a small stage. On center stage stands the woman they call Nostraflamus. Her hair is tied back beneath an orange scarf and a black dress covered in red, orange and yellow flames covers her lean body while her bare orange toenails peek out of the dress's hem.
My cohorts shout at the men seated around her. The men continue to stare at Nostraflamus as they reach for their wallets. I open my gym bag.
Percy told me that this woman has powers that are far greater than we can understand. She has a hypnotic ability to lure men to a private place and take them for everything. Her only mistake is that she let Percy's boss find out about her game.
I collect the cash from the first man. His eyes beam toward Nostraflamus as she dances about in gyrations like I have seen from gypsy dancers. I take money from the third one and I must admit, it is more than I expect. Have these men never heard of banks or credit cards? She sure knows how to pick them.
My cohorts keep yelling but I wonder why. The men have done nothing but comply and drool as their eyes remain on Nostraflamus. I take the last man's wad of bills. I tap my cohort on the shoulder and take one last look at the dancer.
“You will not be the same after this.”
“Decent men. They never get appreciated. This is why. Now you will be appreciated. And scorned.”
“You know and yet you do nothing. You are a twig in a stream. The world goes on because you go with it. Just like these men here. I can keep them here as long as I want.”
“I see why.”
“You are intoxicated by my presence. My sweet face and my suggestive dance moves. Yet, in the end, you do not belong here. You are not part of this, unlike your partners who are leaving you.”
“But I am guilty. I made the wrong move in my dream. I lost my way.”
“So? Don't you understand? I always made the right move and did the moral thing. Even in my dreams where most people do things they would not do. But in my last one, I went over the edge. I knocked a poor woman down and fled. I fled away and only cared about myself. Never before.”
“Oh you silly man. It is only a dream.”
“No. Dreams are secret wishes. They mean a lot. They are our subconscious revealing our own souls to us.”
“They are no such thing. You get up every day and live as the man you intend to be.”
“But beneath it all, I want to be more. I want to be John Dillinger. Somebody who matters. Somebody people respect. Somebody.”
“Yes, but we do not always get what we want. I wanted to be a house wife with children. I am neither. What I want I cannot have. So I choose to be Nostraflamus. I wake up each day knowing I will be her, despite what happens in my dreams. This is life. You should go back to being who you were.”
“It's too late. I have crossed the line now.”
“You have a guiltier conscience than Hitler should have and over what? You have done no wrong. Get out of this mess!”
“I rode with them.”
“Yes. Now take half the money from the bag and hand it to me and ride away.”
“How will that solve anything? I am still a thief.”
“No. I am a thief. Your friends in the car are thieves. Your friends' boss is the thief. They will take their money and spend it. You take your money and do some good with it and never do anything like this again.”
“But why give you half?”
“Because one day the others will pay for this. I am more powerful than they know. You however, will not be bothered if you do this.”
Her eyes flash outward to the air, the barn walls, my eyes and into my brain on deeper into my soul.
I hand over half of the take and walk to the Malibu. Percy and the two cohorts wear owl faces and call to me. Yet I get in no hurry. I climb inside and the stale air brings me back to reality. Percy takes off into the night and I feel awake.
I walk to my friend's house across town. He lives in a little shotgun house near a set of railroad tracks long abandoned. I knock on the door and a woman answers.
I give her my reason for the visit. She gives me a hateful glance as if I just slapped her. I nod to her. I wear the most serious face I can muster and hand over my cut from the only criminal job I have ever committed. Maybe I won't be found hanging from a noose in a barn like Percy and his cohorts. Those Eastern European crime rings don't joke around.
She leads me back my friend's bedroom. It's the same one he has had since childhood. I get a look at a picture of him in his football jersey back when he was just sixteen- shortly before the injury.
I lean down by his side and embrace his hand. I tell him that people always talk about him. He smiles a distant smile but I don't believe he really knows what is going on. He does not appear to have any guilt and from experience, I can tell anybody that that is definitely a great thing. At this point everything feels great.
I just hope I don't wake up.
BIO: Anthony David Mitchell has published nine crime suspense stories and is currently at work on his third novel. Follow him on twitter.com at Anthony D Mitchell.