Malcolm crouched warily on the front porch, knees popping like bubble wrap as his body slowly descended to a level below the railing. No porch light was ablaze, nor streetlight. The night was silent, save for the the occasional bellow of a bullfrog from the pond beyond the cul-de-sac to the west. Cloud cover hid all but a dim silvery nimbus of the waning moon's light.
"Wait," he thought to himself. "Maybe this isn't a porch. It's got a railing. And a rocking chair. I think this a veranda."
He removed a mini-MagLite flashlight from the back pocket of his well-worn dungarees and shone a tiny beam of light in an arc in front of his position. Painted hardwood planking extended a good four feet from the house into the front yard. Chips of what was likely 35-year old leaded paint flecked off of the waist-high railing that encircled the, well… Malcolm nodded and smiled to himself. "I guess that taps it. It's definitely a veranda. Feels like the Old South," he mused.
Of course, it wasn't the Old South. Nowhere near it. It wasn't even a veranda, not technically. It was more like a wrap-around porch without all the exquisite gabling normally associated with the classic veranda. But that wasn't germane in the slightest to what Malcolm was doing there on this cloudy, dark, and silent evening, and he shook his head to clear it of these strange, intrusive, and side-tracking thoughts.
"Gotta see if she's home, gotta get in the house, gotta find the old tin breadbasket that contains God-knows-what, and gotta get out. Quick." Malcolm recited his plan of action in a whisper as he swiveled his head toward the darkened street once again. "I wish Josh was here. This is his job."
Again, Malcolm didn't quite have the truth of it. Thing was, if Josh knew that Malcolm was here, on this of all nights, he would, pardon the expression, kick Mal's ass.
* * *
Malcolm and Josh were small-time bookie wannabees who, sadly, knew very little about the bookmaking business. Most of the time they didn't even remember to collect the vig from their clients. In fact, neither would have any idea at all of what "the vig" was if not for their chance viewing of Get Shorty on cable several months previous. That aside, they had managed to sustain a meager bookmaking business with the help of the action thrown their way by friends, friends of friends, and most importantly, Josh's grandmother Eunice.
Grammy Eunice loved her one and only grandson. She doted on him, religiously plying him with fresh-baked loaves of bread, cases of Vernors, and that awful hard candy always associated with the grandmotherly types. She merely tolerated Malcolm, however. But she wanted to see her grandson do right in the world, and so twice a week she would place bets with Josh and Mal on the outcomes of various NBA, UFC, and WWE events. She was not a sports nut; she didn't even own a TV. But she loved her Josh and desperately wanted to support him. So she placed her bets. And wagers. Even parleys and three-team teasers, though Malcolm and Josh tried to discourage this last one due to their complete ignorance of the terms.
Somehow, Granny Eunice had an uncanny knack for picking winners. And so instead of helping her grandson, she was slowly bleeding him, and Malcolm, dry. Mainly because of the vig – or lack thereof. And because of the "Grandmother Discount", which Malcolm vehemently opposed. But it was Josh's Grammy, so what could he do?
But tonight, Malcolm was going to get the vig. And then some.
* * *
Tired of Grammy's discount and run of unbelievable luck, Malcolm had decided to save himself and Josh from the ignominy of being failed bookies. He had come to Grammy's house that night to hopefully pilfer the tin breadbasket of which she so often spoke. It was as if it were the Ark of the Covenant to her, to hear her prattle on about it incessantly. "A Currier & Ives design, with gold leaf filigree and machine stamped lid given to me by my own grandmother back in 1929," Grammy would often begin a conversation after inviting the boys in for 12-year old peanut brittle and a glass of Tang. "Issued by the United States Mint in commemoration of the attack on Pearl Harbor. Holds three loaves of white bread, two of pumpernickel."
Mal always thought this odd, because wasn't a loaf of pumpernickel actually smaller than a loaf of white? And why was that? And what about rye bread? "But then again," he told himself, "all I ever eat is chips and salsa, so what do I know?"
After the peanut brittle and Tang were served, Grammy would place her bets while lovingly polishing the breadbasket with a solution of naval jelly and a small microfiber cloth. She didn't keep bread in there anymore, that was for sure. Malcolm was certain that he heard things rattling around in the breadbasket, and couldn't help conjuring up images of what non-pastry items Grammy now stored within. Gold coins? Gold necklaces? Gold Bond foot powder? "My imagination sucks," he would often think to himself while shaking his head in disgust.
* * *
On the one occasion he had tried to discuss the contents of the breadbasket with Josh, he was summarily rebuffed. "Grammy keeps whatever she wants in there and it's no business of yours!" Josh huffed. "She's making us into legitimate bookies and that's all that matters."
"If by 'legitimate bookies' you mean 'poor saps that could make a better return by investing in Enron', then yes, she's making us legitimate!" Malcolm shrieked back. "All she does is win. And win. And win. From what I read on Wikipedia, in order for a bookie to make a profit, their clients have to lose a majority of the time. And Grammy is doing the complete opposite!"
"Calm down, Mal," Josh replied, putting a hand on Malcolm's shoulder. Malcolm flinched and shrugged the hand away, but Josh continued. "She's really teaching us the business. And she says her whole crocheting club is gonna be laying bets on the Super Bowl. So we're golden!"
Malcolm thought this over for a moment, and then turned to face Josh. "You're right, I'm sorry. This Super Bowl thing's gonna be our big break. I'm sorry I got mad at you and Grammy. All she wants to do is help us."
* * *
As he crouched on the front porch – er, veranda – Malcolm replayed this conversation in his head and couldn't believe he had been so blind. "No, no, no!" he screamed silently in his mind. "Grammy's ruining us! And tonight I fix that!"
Once again he scanned the front door and picture window, and once again he verified complete darkness. No one was home. Or someone was home but sleeping very soundly. Or the power was out. But it was definitely dark. It was time to make his move.
Since pretty much everyone keeps a spare house key somewhere near the front door, Malcolm swung his MagLite around the "porch-anda" (he was pretty proud of that little on-the-spot portmanteau) and saw a rock within arm's reach. "She wouldn't be this dumb, would she?" he remarked as he picked up the rock, expecting it to be one of those cheap hide-a-key rocks. As it turned out, Grammy apparently wasn't that dumb. It was a real rock, and Malcolm dropped it loudly onto the wooden planking in disgust. The noise made him jump and utter a tiny curse. He looked around furtively, expecting lights from disturbed neighbors or the bark of a dog, but there was nothing. He sighed in relief.
Gathering himself once again, he reached to replace the rock when his flashlight beam twinkled on something where the rock had been. "Unbelievable," he laughed to himself. "Grammy was that dumb. And too cheap to buy a hide-a-key!" For there where the real rock had sat was the spare house key, now exposed to the world. Still chuckling, Malcolm picked up the key and straightened his cramped and protesting legs to stand in front of the door.
* * *
As Malcolm stood in the foyer, he suddenly had misgivings about his planned caper. And was it really a "caper"? No, more like a simple B & E. Capers were grand things. This… "Stealing from an old woman, is that what I've come to?" he silently inquired of himself. Well, he could be a failed bookie or he could be a successful cat burglar. It was unlikely he could be both. Decision made, he silently closed the door behind him.
He'd been in this house many times, usually sitting on the doily-covered davenport while trying not to break a crown on the peanut brittle. So he knew his way around, and decided not to use the MagLite as he headed to the kitchen. This, like so many others in his life, was a poor choice. He promptly barked his left shin on the edge of a coffee table which Grammy must have moved while vacuuming and not replaced. Malcolm stomped and howled as silently as he could until the pain subsided to a dull roar. Past the point of caring, he turned on the flashlight and marched toward the kitchen and the Grail awaiting him within.
The countertop was spotless, and the tin Currier & Ives breadbasket sat solidly to the left of the sink. A notepad lay on the counter in front of the basket. Malcolm picked it up and read:
"Spurs (-6.5) at Kings – over/under 185 – take the points!"
"How does she do it?" Malcolm thought. "I didn't even know Volkov was still wrestling." Shaking his head, he tossed the pad aside and focused all his attention on the breadbasket – his Grail. He reached a trembling hand toward it and was about to touch the cold tin when a thought interjected. "Dammit, I should have brought gloves! I'm going to leave fingerprints all over this thing," he chastised himself. Of course, that damage had already been done: on the house key, the doorknob, the countertop, and the notepad. But he was still determined to not leave the residue of his identity on the grand prize. Looking around the kitchen, he noticed an oven mitt hanging from the handle on the oven. He quickly grabbed it, jammed it on his right hand, and awkwardly drew the breadbasket toward him.
This was it! This was the moment he went from being a failed bookie to a moneymaking fiend! He shivered involuntarily in anticipation and rubbed his chin with his be-gloved hand. "Do it!" he commanded himself. So he did.
Seconds later, he was surprised to find his uncovered left hand holding the lid half open. He quickly looked from his left hand to his glove-covered right, and his eyes popped wide with shock. Realizing the mistake he had made in his haste, he slammed the lid shut and tried to regroup. Muttering a curse directed at his rashness and, well, stupidity, he wiped the lid with the oven mitt to remove any trace evidence, took a deep breath, and started again.
Now correctly holding the flashlight in his left, his protected right hand went to the lid and he moved to open it. But he was unsuccessful as the glove was extremely bulky and its cloth offered no resistance against the lovingly burnished surface of the antique breadbasket. He swore. Once again, he attempted to lift the lid with his oven-mitted hand, and once again he failed mightily. Finally, disgusted with the mitt and his own ineptitude, he tore the glove from his hand and flung it far across the kitchen, where it struck a group of large iron pots suspended from the ceiling. An enormous cacophony of clanging ensued. Malcolm dropped to his knees, covered his ears to try to drown out the tumult, and felt a small sob escape from his throat.
* * *
Minutes (or was it hours?) later, the kitchen was quiet and still once more. Steeling himself to action, Malcolm stood once again to face the vile breadbasket. He checked his watch. Yes, it was definitely only minutes later. "Time really is a weird thing," he mused thoughtfully. He felt he had already been in the house too long, so he decided to throw caution to the wind. Setting the flashlight on the counter, he trained it on the prize and grasped the breadbasket in both unsheathed hands. On a whim he shook it and heard the reassuring rattle of that-which-was-not-bread from inside the closed container. He lifted the entire box and was surprised by its weight. "Whatever it is, it's going to change my life!" thought Malcolm. He set it down and finally opened the lid.
* * *
What the MagLite illuminated inside the breadbasket both puzzled and excited Malcolm. Bits of yarn, dozens of various old buttons, and numerous pieces of pocket lint were interspersed with a gigantic assortment of coins. He grabbed a handful of currency mixed with detritus, let it fall through his fingers back into the breadbasket, and cackled with glee. He pulled out another handful and inspected the coins more closely. They appeared to all be either 1981 Susan B. Anthony dollar coins or 1953 Eisenhower nickels. There were no variations in the dates, and for a moment this struck him as very strange, but then he remembered whose coins they were. Grammy's. And in some weird way, it all made sense to Malcolm.
And then he saw the paper taped to the inside of the lid. It was a note. And given the garish cursive swirls and precisely aligned margins, Malcolm knew who had authored it. Curious, and now a bit wary, he unstuck it from the lid and began to read by flashlight:
I know you never liked or trusted me but know this: I will always do right by my grandson. Enclosed here within my gold filigreed authentic U.S. Mint Currier & Ives breadbasket, you will find all of your uncollected vigs from my many wagers. I knew that you would figure out the business and come for it someday. I had faith you were not a complete moron. Thank you for not squandering my belief in you. Happy bookmaking! And don't forget to share this with Joshua. 50/50, young man!
P.S. Did you know that "vig" is short for "vigorish"? It's a Yiddish term. Look it up. And comb your hair. You look like a haystack.
Malcolm smiled to himself. He put the note back in the breadbasket and gently closed the lid. Then he expelled all of the night's built-up tension in one massive whoop. It felt wonderful! He actually considered hollering for one brief moment, but ultimately chose the whoop so as to not disturb the neighbors. And so there in Grammy's kitchen he whooped and two-stepped and celebrated as only a man pardoned from death row could. Or one who was now not a complete failure in the bookie business. He felt those things were fairly comparable, in his mind.
He had the vigs and he was a success! Josh was a success! And it was all because of Grammy. Malcolm felt a momentary pang of guilt for having not trusted her, and for breaking and entering into her house tonight, and for privately despising her peanut brittle. But all along she had expected it, right? (The breaking and entering part, anyway. He would never admit to disliking her peanut brittle. That was just too personal.) In a way he was invited, even welcomed, into Grammy's kitchen to receive the fruits of her instruction.
He found a pen and quickly scribbled a thank you note to Grammy on her wager notepad. Then, filled with delight and more hope for the future than he had ever dreamed, Malcolm picked up the breadbasket and left Grammy's house, on the way to a new day.
Copyright © 2011, Jeff Priskorn. All rights reserved.
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