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I remember: it was the second we stepped into that shabby, old shack in the middle of nowhere that Joey took his first nervous look around and asked,

“Yer sure it’s safe to hide the loot out here?”

The shack had been lost to the Estate when the last member of Old Man Lackey’s small Family Tree Farms had passed away peacefully in his sleep, nearly a full generation ago. The wooden ceiling had since been worn through years of harsh storms, and now yellow beams of light rained down haphazardly, highlighting the dusty, old innards of a forgotten old barn. Through the haze, a thick smog of diesel fumes relentlessly assaulted our band of bandits’ nostrils.

I kept us walking, but looked back to Joey and nodded through the yellow haze, reassuring his massive, hulking frame, “Yes, Yes, I’m sure. We agreed on it back at the house, remember?”

Joey grunted, but otherwise remained quiet. It took a few furtive, nervous inspections of the desolate shack before he visibly calmed down, but we eventually reached the safe planted in the back, set our bags down, and got started.

Now, I didn’t just hire anyone to help with this heist, of course! These were actual badasses; top of the FBI’s Most Wanted; arrest warrants in more places they’ve been to; top of the criminal food chain; thirsty for both blood and money; the worst; a pair of slimy, nasty, backstabbing —well, you get the gist.

“You first, Simon”, I reminded our collaborator. “Go.”

Simon crouched down, trying his best to cover the dial with his meager physique while he entered the first number. With one hand covering the other, he worked quickly, turned the dial slightly to hide his true number, and returned to his feet. I remember he looked at us with a fire in his eyes that silently pleaded, “Hold up your end of the deal or die.”

And I believed it; pouring over this guy’s history is like taking a casual stroll through Auschwitz. Killed his best friend at age seven, his parents two years later before walking himself to school — the works. There were rabbit holes you could go down for hours, seeing more and more of the demonic cogs that puppeteered that body. But as a genius once said, “if thou gaze long into an abyss, the abyss will gaze into thee.” Definitely not someone you want to spend more time than necessary with.

Joey was next. He barked, “I ain’t stupid; turn around, twits.”

Simon wore a deviant smirk, but did as he was told.

After Joey returned to his feet, I was last to put in my number — 27. Joey had turned the dial to 32 to throw me off his real number, of course, but I guessed it was probably in the forties or fifties.

“Our numbers are pretty close together,” I joked back to Joey.

“Hey,” Simon interjected, “we agreed no talking about the numbers.”

“Job’s over,” I cheered, “we did it!” I lifted up one of the many bags of cash at our feet for emphasis. “Let’s load up the loot and go celebrate.”

“The job’s not over ’til I’ve got my share o’ it,” Joey growled.

I loaded the rest of the bags into the vault and closed it up, and we all took turns demonstrating spinning the dial in various directions.

Outside of the shed, the sun was shining brightly on its descent over the horizon, bathing the fields of wheat surrounding this shack with a natural golden glow. Its light permeated through the shack’s many frame holes, but its warmth was trapped outside.

“You’ll get your share, don’t worry.” I reassured again, then added, “We did it guys, take a breather and relax. I’m gonna step outside to piss.”

“Oh no you’re not,” Simon shot back, instinctively reaching into his jacket to prepare for shit to go down. “We’re going with you.”

At the same time, I flipped the clasp off my holster. Joey — with his hand relaxing away from his own weapon — chortled loudly, then announced, “That job was rough. I trust you guys. It reeks in here, but I just need to sit.” He waved us out as he retrieved a stool from the darkness and gingerly sat down.

Simon and I exchanged a few glances — his significantly more nervous looking than mine, I assure you; though at a point so far past the point of no return I was, too, nervous — but ultimately he begrudgingly followed me outside.

“Why so skittish all the sudden, Simon?”

Simon surveyed the surroundings, suddenly stopping in silence to scrutinize the open space a stone’s throw South — as well as he could, with the sun falling ever quicker — before admitting, “I don’t think this is the place you said the safe would be at. I looked the address up, and this looks nothing like it. What’s going on?”

“Everything’s fine,” I said, unzipping my pants. I turned and faced downwind, then called backward, “it’s an old barn, maybe you saw old pictures. Look, the ornament on the roof looks distinguishable; did you see it in your pictures?”

As Simon turned around to look, shielding his eyes from the blinding sun in the distance with both hands, I slipped my hand over the already unbuckled holster at my side and withdrew my issue Glock. As Simon turned to say, “What ornament? I don’t see any — ” — I raised my silenced barrel and put two in his head.

He had just enough time to contort his face with a mixture of astonishment and dread before slumping back into the dirt, dead.

I zipped my pants back up and returned inside to find Joey staring blankly off into the yellow smog, a stupid smile painted across his face.

“Simon’s starting the car,” I called out, yanking Joey from his daydream.

“Come on, let’s go!”

Joey jumped up and walked towards the door. It’s a little harder to judge center of mass from behind, but I put three bullets in his heart before he could even drop to the ground. I walked over quickly to make sure he was done and done he was.

I looked at the safe, the fireproof safe I had purchased with a secret “topple” entrance installed underneath, for the extremely likely chance that an earthquake happens to knock the unbearably heavy safe on its side with the lock and my grandmother absolutely needs its contents immediately. And of course, since I was a paying customer after all, they let me put a second, “back-up” lock in this second door, just so poor grandmother has a way to access her belongings in the event that Alzheimer’s takes over.

The safe business was never meant to be in the bad guy’s favor.

I took a minute to drag Simon’s body inside and prop it up against the front of the safe, where I also tied a rope connecting to a winch in the shadows and applied pressure until the safe toppled over, loudly crushing Simon’s corpse.

Circling around back, you wouldn’t be able to tell the bottom of the safe from the front. I put in the back up combination and basked in the loot. We stole so much it took three trips with one person to load everything back into the car, but eventually it was loaded and ready to go.

It seemed oddly fitting for two career criminals to face such a fiery end, locked in a shack with their loot safely out of arm’s reach, but it’s unfortunate they weren’t in a position to appreciate it. I had already doused the shack with gasoline hours ago, but the permeating fumes told me it was still good to light up.

Perhaps the police will think there was some scuffle after the safe fell on Simon. Perhaps they’ll think two compatriots, locked in a shack as it burned to the ground, were all a team could be, because why would they let a single one of them go back out to the getaway car alone? Perhaps they’ll think the money all burned away, or one of the two victims were hiding it until the safe was ready. I don’t actually really care what they think, as long as it takes them time to think it.

The entire plan was to do the world a service, of course, but I doubt everyone will recognize that. And so the money, of course, is payment for penance and mine to keep. Perhaps one day I’ll tell my story, but for now this journal will have to do.

Seven million dollars for two relentlessly evil, FBI-wanted criminal psychopaths sounds like a pretty good deal to me.