by Rochelle Weidner
Easy Eddie crumpled onto the gravel. A practiced fall I’d seen before, but the crowds startled like birds. Some called for help, some inched away. Eddie’s eyelids fluttered as he eyed the pickings.
“Wait, he’s coming around.” A young mother gripped her toddler.
“He’s conscious. You okay, mister? Want us to get a doctor?” The bus driver looked relieved.
An elderly tourist hurried inside, returning with a cup. Eddie drank.
“Where am I?” Eddie’s voice shook.
“Needles, California.” The driver announced.
Last time I laid eyes on Easy Eddie I was ten. He hadn’t changed much, thinner carrot hair, shabby, and still working his convenient spells. As the elderly tourist turned away, Eddie deftly lifted his wallet. I stifled a laugh with my hand. Eddie hadn’t changed at all.
Eddie wouldn’t recognize me now. I took after mom more than dad, my towhead hair darkened to a muddy brown, and it wasn’t my father’s face reflected in the mirror.
Why Eddie and my father were buddies escaped me. Both men I guessed leaned on each other and encouraged their petty crimes and misdemeanors.
Only my dad was the one who got caught.
Mom packed us off to Tucson. She had sense enough to change our names, and pride enough to work shit jobs, go to night school and make us a better life. I was ashamed of my father, told my classmates he was dead.
“I want none of your father’s ill-gotten gains.”
He was a thief. He couldn’t help himself. No job lasted; he always got caught with his hand in the till.
But I didn’t tell her he took me with him that last time.
Mom was late from work. Dad was supposed to be watching me.
The two robbed another convenience store and possessed a box full of cash that needed quick disposal. A witness nailed them and the cops were hot on their tail. I watched as Dad emptied dressers and drawers, stuffing money from his previous robberies into the small box.
“Won’t the kid know what we’re doing?” Easy Eddie fretted the whole time.
“She’s just a stupid kid, she won’t know. Now, shut up and grab the shovels.”
Stupid kid or not, I knew they figured they’d bury the evidence; the cops would have nothing on them.
They were wrong.
Tailing Eddie was a piece of cake. He lifted one more wallet from an unsuspecting grandma’s purse. Then he set off on foot. We reached the park, him first, as the dark settled over the town.
The place was abandoned now. The swings still stood. I saw rusty hinges and flecks of paint peeling off the legs. The stand of Eucalyptus was as I remembered, and in the half-light of the moon, they seemed to whisper and lean closer together. Did the trees remember me, half-starved, rag of a kid, dragged here by her good-for-nothing father?
Eddie was predictable. He knew my old man had died in prison.
I remembered Dad yelling at me. “Go on, get out of my hair.” Dad pushed me toward the swings, then there were still seats on the ends of the ropes, and I half-heartedly swung back and forth as I watched.
Was the money still there? It was likely. This part of town had gone downhill and no one was itching to renovate. Eddie had been in jail until yesterday. The only person besides me who knew the money existed.
I should have gone earlier. But kids are not supposed to go wandering off to seedy neighborhoods. I thought I had time to wait for the right opportunity, but the phone call from the old cop who’d arrested my dad changed that.
My mother answered with monosyllables. “No. No. Yes. I understand.”
“Eddie’s out. Detective Sam wants us to be careful.”
My mother’s eyes were sad. I patted her hand, and kissed the top of her head. All her life trouble and hardship. I bought the bus ticket that night.
I brought my own shovel. It was easier than I thought to bring it down across the back of Eddie’s head. Like swatting a bat. He fell face forward into the dirt. He’d never cause trouble again and Mom and I wouldn’t ever have to worry about him coming back into our lives.
Ten steps from the right front leg of the swing, three to the slide, my probe hit something hard below the earth. My college fund.