It was a plan Larry had cooked up over four weeks of mashed potatoes and creamed corn from the Fountains Senior Care cafeteria. The three of them were going to get out of here and spend their final days in Vegas like the Kings they were. This was no place for real Elvis Impersonators.
Frank had secured a car that would get them from Reno to Vegas. Larry had put in the request to go into town, all three of them, to go antique shopping. They’d done their research: Arthur knew the artifact was in the Virginia Street Antique Mall, and Frank still had all his safe-cracking equipment stashed in his private room.
It was a normal Tuesday, and the van from the rest home dropped them off at 10:30, right as the shop girl unlocked the doors. She was dressed like she had walked out of 1955: hoop skirt, tailored shirt, and high heeled mary-janes. Even her hair was sprayed to perfection. But, to Larry, something was off. It was probably all the tattoos.
“Hello boys,” she said. “Looking for something special today?”
She was Arthur’s responsibility. “I’m looking for a scarf for my wife. She likes those silk ones. You got anything like that?”
The shop girl walked him into the bowels of the store in the opposite direction of the safe. Larry patted Frank on the backpack resting on his hunched shoulders.
“It’s showtime,” he said.
Too many years of dancing like The King had relegated Larry to a walker with tennis balls on its back legs. Frank was less lucky. Elvis’ signature lip curl had left him forever exposing his loose dentures.
The two men moved their way through the store, stepping over electrical cords that ran over and between every aisle. They walked past dozens of old clocks that looked like cats, clothes that smelled more like science experiments than sweaters, and an entire alcove that seemed to Larry to be composed entirely of garbage. And then Frank saw the safe.
Larry would say later that the clouds parted and a beam of sunlight opened up right on that safe, showing Frank the way. His cataracts had gotten bad in the past few years and he was almost totally blind, but he walked right up to it, as if what was inside was calling to him.
Frank pulled up a chair Larry wasn’t sure would hold his weight, and sat down to work. “It’s got a combination lock, simple with these older models. And I brought my hand drill so we won’t make lotsa noise.” He turned around. “Can you make sure Arthur keeps the shop girl busy? I gotta make sure this goes right the first time.”
Larry shuffled off. Frank looked suspicious sitting there at the end of this aisle, in that rickety chair, meddling with the safe. And Larry knew he sure didn’t look like a customer, pushing his walker through the dust covered aisles listening for Arthur’s gravelly baritone somewhere in the store.
When he heard giggling, he knew he was close.
“Right there,” Arthur was saying. “Keep that head tilted … Yes. Like that. Hold it.”
And then there was the resonant click of a shutter, the kind Larry recognized from 40 years ago, back when people used film and had to wind cameras.
“Beautiful,” Arthur said. “Absolutely beautiful.”
Larry remained still, not wanting to disturb Arthur on his latest con. He leaned on his walker, listening.
“So you think I can do it? Be a model?” the shop girl asked.
“Oh, yeah,” Arthur said. “I know people all over Vegas. You’ll be walking down New York runways by Fashion Week.”
Larry was turning around, but didn’t see as the back leg of his walker caught an electrical cord. What he did see was Frank was lumbering up the aisle as fast as he could, waving a little black book. He was mouthing, ‘I got it,’ his dentures flapping with each labored breath. Larry took a step forward, unplugging the master surge protector, the one which every other cord and every other device in the entire Virginia Street Antique Mall depended upon.
The lights flickered once, and then plunged all three men and the shop girl into darkness. And then the alarm sounded, an accusatory klaxon of theft and bad behavior. When the sprinkler system poured down rain, it added insult to injury, plastering the shop girl’s hair and skirt to her head and legs. Frank cried out, grabbing for Larry in the darkness. Larry’s anxiety shifted into overdrive, the van from Fountains Senior Care wouldn’t be here for another hour, and their shelter had become a storm.
As Arthur made excuses for his “senile friends,” the shop girl apologized for the store’s antiquarian electric system. Larry heard Arthur laughing a little too loud and too hard at the pun as he lead Frank to the door. Arthur couldn’t blow this for them, not now, not when they were so close to Vegas Larry could see their names in lights. Larry held his breath while Arthur bought a blue paisley silk scarf for his “wife.” He wrung his hands as the shop girl tried to write out a receipt, but the paper deteriorated in the water.
He couldn’t take it anymore. They had to go. And as they did, she called after them, “Goodbye, Arthur! Don’t forget me!”
The three men waited outside for the van: Arthur trying to dry himself off with the wet scarf, while Frank and Larry used plain old sunshine. Before the van showed up, and while the parking lot was still empty, Frank showed them what he’d rescued: a book containing the only known recipe for the peanut butter and banana sandwich, written in Elvis Presley’s handwriting.
Worth every risk.
© Jordan S Kurella, 2015