Two slackers plan to use a boy with savant syndrome to help them steal an original copy of Amazing Fantasy #15
Written by Gregory Patrick Travers
A pair of stubby, blistered hands hovered over the keyboard at the computer hub of the Central Library. Eight fingers and two lazy thumbs were arched at the ready and yet…they did not move. Brett Furlong watched the blinking text bar flashing back at him from the monitor, prompting for an e-mail address. He glanced to his left where sat a scruffy old native man. The beaten-looking man mumbled to himself, his head buried low into his chest and his keyboard untouched. He hadn’t even logged in. Then he looked to his right, where sat a young man watching a Jonas brother music video. He had a blank stare and a goofy smile. There was something off with him; Brett just couldn’t put his finger on what. His bloodshot eyes shifted back to the blinking bar on the monitor prompting him for an e-mail address Then he looked down to his hands hovering over the keyboard, afraid to begin, for if he started he knew that he would be one of them–the public internet crowd. Ugh. What a bunch of freaks. How had he ever gotten so low as to be among the likes of them?
No time for that now, he thought. Just get this over with and get the fuck out of here!
His fingers went to work.
Brett scratched his bald head. With the exception of a few lonely hairs looking like cacti in the desert, its surface was as smooth and glowing as a lane in a bowling alley and wrapped around its sides, a patch of dark stubble that looked like worn Velcro. His free hand rubbed motherly on his rumbling gut. He felt old. There was no question that the sexually adventurous rock star persona of his youth had long since decomposed, leaving this loose lump of hair and skin in its wake. The boy that spawned that sultry e-mail handle was dead and gone. And even though Brett knew he was long overdue for an e-mail address update, even though he knew that email@example.com was not helping him in the job market…he never changed it.
Why, you ask? Well, you nosey little bitch, as stupid as it may sound to the privileged likes of you, that stupid handle was the only lasting testament to his lustful, exuberant youth. A time in his life he desperately yearned to relive. But here he was: The band, split. The girl, gone. Hair, gone. Life, shitty. If he did get a new e-mail address, no one would ever remember that fun loving goof who could play the shit out of a guitar and go shot for shot with the best of them. That boy, that…sexmachine69, would be lost forever, buried in the ever-falling sands of time. Today would not be that day. Brett had more important business to attend to.
Upon signing in to his account he was greeted with a new message notification from Tinder. Its subject read Congratulations, Brett! You have a new match!
Matches for Brett now and days were rare. And when they did occur he usually wasn’t very happy with the results. He had imagined that if he threw out a big enough net and liked as many photos as possible that he was likely to catch a greater number of fish. But sadly, most of the fish he caught were ones that he was eager to give back to the sea.
But not this one. She was something else.
Arlene. She had this free-spirited, party girl thing about her. But also she looked innocent, like the partying hadn’t got the best of her yet. He couldn’t quite nail down her nationality though. She looked mixed. Maybe Asian/white or black/Mexican…but she was flawless. Once again his fingers went to work.
>Hey Arlene! Look at us—we matched!!
Brett stared at the screen for a moment…Delete. Delete.
Maybe just Hey to start, he decided.
He typed the three letters, said one last goodbye to Arlene’s beautiful, racially ambiguous face and logged off from Tinder, heading quickly to his Royal Bank online banking account. There, another homepage prompted him for his card number and password. No matter how many times he punched in his account number, he never did manage to memorize it. He sat there, his eyes darted at the card in his hands, clicking away at the keyboard, sounding more like the second hand on a grandfather clock than a human typing on a computer. Once passed the security questions, he hastily transferred twenty dollars from his savings into his checking account so he could grab a few after work joints. Tonight he was getting high but, with any luck, tomorrow he’d be getting laid.
The next day, after he clocked out, Brett headed straight back to the library to see if Arlene had replied. He was in such a rush that he didn’t even change out of his steel toes and dusty work cargos. As he opened the door into the mezzanine he heard someone behind him say, “Brett Furlong? Is that you?”
He could see the man’s reflection in the glass. It was a scene kid no doubt; the tight jeans, the vintage t-shirt with a picture of the rock band that they don’t listen to, the leather jacket and of course, the wool toque. Brett just couldn’t identify with the kids who thought looking like a cat burglar was hip. But underneath all the trend and fashion, there was a face that he recognized. But who was it?
The monochromatic stranger stretched his arms out, his tiny, pale wrists shot out of the sleeves on his leather jacket as he boasted, “It’s me! Steve Collins! From high school!”
Brett looked him up and down. Steve Collins? Steve the dweeb? Could it really have been him? After all, Steve had been quite the loser in those days. Then Brett became suddenly aware of how much he had changed himself over the years. While Steve had been losing his gut, Brett had been putting one on. While Steve had been growing out his hair, Brett had been shedding his. And while Steve was looking sharp and fashionable, Brett looked like an old Polish painter. It seemed as though the two of them had swapped destinies. Brett had not been the kindest to Steve in those years, now he was a little embarrassed by it. It was hard to look him eye to eye but, out of pride, he did.
“Oh, hey Steve,” said Brett. “Long time, huh?”
Steve’s smile grew wider. “I know!” he laughed. “Wow. You…You look different.”
Brett let out a heavy sigh and his gut sunk over his waistband. “Yeah, I know.”
Steve’s eyes blew open, like he had just remembered he left the stove on. “Hey, you want to go grab a coffee and catch up real quick?
Brett thought about Arlene’s reply waiting for him on Tinder. He bet it was something cute like Hey or Hey, winky face. “I don’t think so,” he said. “I have to get some work done.”
Steve pressed on. “Aw, come on. You can’t be that busy. Just a quick one. I know a place around the corner.”
It was strange to Brett that Steve was so intent on catching up. They were hardly friends in high school. Brett was in a popular rock band and Steve watched anime and did math. But he agreed anyway, feeling sorry for the way he had treated Steve in the past. Maybe, he thought. An act of kindness might help turn around his karma, if there ever were such a thing.
Once inside the coffee shop Brett turned to Steve in the line and asked, “So, why were you at the library?”
“Research,” said Steve with a grin. “So, you still in that band?”
“No,” answered Brett. “We split up a few years ago.”
“That’s too bad,” said Steve. “You guys were good.”
“Thanks,” Brett replied.
“So, what are you up to these days?”
Brett pointed to his chalky steel-toed boots. “Construction. You?”
Steve opened his mouth to speak, but just as he did the barista shouted, “Next in line, please!”
Brett turned to her. “Hey, can I get a small medium. No room.”
“$2.50,” she answered.
Brett removed his debit card from his wallet and the barista handed him the machine. He looked over his shoulder quickly as he punched in his password and then handed it back to the girl at the counter. “I’m sorry, it didn’t go through,” she said. The machine gave that embarrassing harsh buzz of a denied transaction as the receipt printed out.
“Impossible,” said Brett. He tried again, holding on to the device this time in case the girl had been doing something to mess with it. The harsh buzz came again and ‘Insufficient funds’ flashed on the screen as another denied receipt spewed out of the machine.
“Everything okay?” asked Steve, poking his head over Brett’s shoulder.
“Yeah,” said Brett. He looked up at the cashier and winced. “Sorry, can we just try one more time?”
By now the line was starting to grow and people were beginning to become restless and annoyed. To be safe, Brett used his savings account this time. He knew there was still seven hundred and fifty dollars in that account. His heart dropped when once again “Insufficient funds” flashed on the screen. Another receipt buzzed out mockingly.
Steve’s arm came from behind and dropped a ten dollar bill on the counter. “Make that two and keep the change, darling,” he said with a wink.
“Wow,” said the barista. “Thank you, mister!”
By the time the two of them sat down, Brett was starting to panic. “There has to be some mistake,” he said. “I know I have money it that account.”
Steve reached into the inner breast pocket of his leather jacket and pulled out a small pile of crisp tens and twenties and neatly stacked them on the table. “What’s that?” asked Brett.
“That is seven hundred and fifty dollars. It’s what was in your savings account. Well, seven hundred and forty dollars now, after the coffees and the big tip you gave the cashier.”
Brett leaned back in his chair, “What are you talking about? How do you know how much was in my savings account?”
“I robbed you,” Steve replied. “This is your money. That’s why your card got rejected.”
Brett’s lips sunk into a frown and his eyes became cold and angry. He leaned in and grabbed Steve by the collar, twisting the shirt with his fist. “Listen, Steve the dweeb,” he growled. “You better start making sense—and quick!”
Some of the other patrons started to look over to their table. Steve offered them a reassuring smile and a friendly chuckle. “It’s okay,” he said. “My friend is just extremely caffeine sensitive.” Brett let go and Steve tried to press out the wrinkles on his collar with his hand unsuccessfully. When he had given up he looked up to Brett and said, “Come with me. There’s someone I want you to meet…And take that money off the table before people start to think we’re coke dealers.”
When they returned back to the library Steve led them to the study tables right by the computer labs and they sat down. “So, where’s this person you want me to meet?” asked Brett. Steve pointed over to the computers, where the same young man that sat beside him the day before sat watching that same Jonas brother video with the same glazed look on his eyes and that same droopy smile. “Him?” asked Brett, in more of absurdity than a question. “Isn’t he…y’know…one of those “special” people?”
“Oh, he’s special alright,” said Steve. “But you meant: is he retarded? And the answer to that is, yes. Very. But, like a Transformer, there is more to him than meets the eye.”
Brett stared blankly back at Steve. He wasn’t sure what he just heard. Steve saw he had fallen off and tried quickly to re-calculate his explanation. “Okay,” he said finally, shooting off a couple of finger guns. “Have you ever seen Rain Man?”
Brett perched up in his seat now that there was a familiar topic. “That movie with Tom Cruise and Dustin Hoffman?”
Steve’s eyes lit up. “Yeah, yeah!” he nodded. “You know it…So remember when Tom Cruise figures out that even though Dustin Hoffman is retarded, he has an amazing ability for retaining information? Like numbers? And then they go to Las Vegas to count cards?” Brett nodded fondly and Steve continued full barrel, “That’s what is called ‘Savant Syndrome’, which is basically the case in where, though most of the parts of the brain that make us our social selves are inactive in these people, another part of the brain, one that us ‘normal’ folk do not have access to, is awakened.”
Brett was started to gain interest. He scootched his seat closer and asked, “What kind of part?…of the brain.”
Steve shrugged. “It’s different all the time. Kim Peek; the guy that Dustin Hoffman’s character is based on, had the unique ability of increased memory. He could memorize everything! Books! People’s conversations! Black Jack cards!”
“No shit, eh?”
Steve continued on, “This other guy, Stephen Wiltshire, took a helicopter ride over the city of London and when he got back home he drew an identical image of the view from the ‘copter. Every building, every street, every car, every lamp post…it was fixed to memory.” Then he pointed to the young man at the computer. “Wally over there has his own mutant powers. Much like Peek, he can retain information at lightning fast speeds; reading lips, counting keys, counting cards…”
“Get the fuck out of here,” whispered Brett with childish excitement. “So, have you, like, taken him to Vegas? Like in the movie?”
“Unfortunately that Scientologist bastard ruined it for the rest of us. I’d be outed the second I brought Wally into one of those places. But here, at the library, people don’t give a fuck. And that’s how we cash in. Every day people come here to use the computers; they enter e-mail addresses, passwords, credit card numbers—all of it!”
It suddenly hit Brett like a punch in the face. “Are you saying…that guy stole my banking information when I came in here yesterday?”
Steve leaned in and whispered, but his eyes looked like they were going to pop out of his skull. “That’s exactly what I’m saying.”
Brett found it hard to hold onto his anger. After all, the story was so crazy…it was kind of cool. He found himself wanting to know more. “So, how much have you, y’know, made off him?”
Steve darted back, offended. “Made off him? Brett, I’m not his pimp. I’m not his slave master. He makes forty bucks a week. His mom thinks I give him it to help around the house with chores and learn responsibility, bullshit like that.”
“Yeah, I’m his Big Brother. I signed up thinking it would be good for my resume…but now that I have Wally, why would I work? This is my job. And it fucking pays.”
Brett ran his hands across the smooth surface of his head, taking it all in. “How did you…how did you discover this?”
“I was logging into my PornHub account, I like to troll the message boards, and I typed in my password. That’s when Wally, at the other end of the couch, shouts out my password at the top of his lungs! While his mom was right downstairs! It wouldn’t have been so bad had the password not been so vulgar.”
“What was the password?”
Steve grinned. “The same as your e-mail password, sexmachine69.”
Steve nodded. “Yes. It was bigtitties.”
“Wait a second,” said Brett, his index finger up for pause. “Are you telling me you were on PornHub when you were supposed to be babysitting a dude that’s mentally challenged?”
Steve was again put on the offensive. “Mentally challenged? That kid is a fucking superhero! He’s a cash cow! You’re missing the point, *cough*, uh, to the story…What I was trying to say is…I want to offer you a job. It pays $10,000.”
Brett’s ears perked up like a dog hearing the jingling of a leash being taken off the rack. “What exactly are we talking about here?”
Steve took the green light and began to lay it all down, “The other day Wally was doing his usual run of the labs when this guy sits down beside him and logs into his e-mail. He’s nothing special, generic chubby bald guy—no offense—Later, when I got the codes from Wally, I wasn’t even going to bother checking his account. Guys like him usually have inboxes filled with final notices from collection agencies and craigslist reply notices from transvestites. Anyway, I’m glad I checked because this guy was the fucking whale of all fucking whales. You ready for this? Right now he is in a bidding war for an original copy of Amazing Fantasy #15. I know what you’re thinking: how does a fat bald guy like that have the money to bid on such a rare and expensive comic book?—again, no offense.
“Well, I dug a little deeper into his e-mails and found a whole bunch of condolence messages from relatives and friends. His mom died and she left him a butt-load of money. I went through the insurance e-mails and everything. Instead of investing the money in GIC’s or RRSP’s or even a high-interest savings account, he’s chosen to invest in an original print of one of the most influential comic books of our time!… We’re going to steal it from him. Well…You are going to steal it from him. From his minimum security townhouse in the burbs.”
“You want me to break into this guys’ house?”
“For ten thousand dollars.”
Brett became lost for a moment, daydreaming about what he might do with ten thousand dollars. Then he snapped back to reality. He shook his head, “I don’t get it. Why all this for a stupid comic book?”
Steve groaned and buried his face in his hands; knocking his wool toque halfway off his head. “I know you were a sexy, dark, disturbed rocker in your youth but please tell me that you managed to learn what Amazing Fantasy #15 was!”
Brett stared back at him blankly.
Steve collapsed dramatically on the desk, causing some of the Asian girls studying in the corner to turn their heads and giggle. Finally, after Steve had shaken off his disbelief and recomposed himself, he said, “It’s the origin of Spider-Man. His first appearance—ever!” And for the next part, Steve made sure he whispered extra softly, “It’s worth half a million dollars!”
Brett’s tongue nearly fell out of his mouth like some sort of 1930’s cartoon. He wanted to scream but, being in the confines of the public library, he had to settle for whispering really, really loud. “Holy shit! That’s nuts!”
Steve nodded eagerly. “It’s a hot fudge sundae covered in nuts!”
He noticed Brett’s eyes shift from left to right, back and forth. “Wait a sec,” said Brett. “If that comic is worth half a mill than why am I only getting ten grand? If I’m the one sticking my neck out, I want a bigger cut.”
“Twenty grand,” said Steve. His voice was firm and his poker face strong. “That’s as high as I’m willing to go. I have expenses and debts, debts more than expenses but we all play our parts right in this and we’ll all walk away with a nice chunk of cash. What do you say?”
Brett nodded in agreement. He pointed over to Wally, who had gotten up from his spot at the computer labs to take a sip from the water fountain by the washrooms. “And Wally?”
“Wally will get his usual forty bucks a week.”
They both grinned.
On the day of the robbery, Brett arrived early, sat on a green electrical box down the street from the house they were robbing and opened up a fresh pack of Pall Mall cigarettes he bought at the 7/11 on the way over. He hadn’t had a smoke in over a year; it was one of the few things that had been going well for him in life as of late. But today he made an exception.
The long suburban street was quiet; the breadwinners all at work, the kids at school and the wives out on their daily routines or inside busy with laundry and small children. Brett watched a pair of playful crows chasing each other about, occasionally landing on a branch to rest their wings before they went at it again. The sun shined down on the road, warming it and warming Brett. He found himself jealous of the crows’ freedom. He hoped that with the twenty thousand dollars he was going to make off the caper that he might be able to afford his wings, to fly far, far away from it all. And, if he was lucky, take Arlene with him.
He was torn from his fantasies when Steve puttered up in an old, bulky cargo van. Brett flicked his smoke and pushed off the green box, meeting Steve on the driver side as he was getting out. “You made it,” said Steve.
“Yup,” said Brett. He got a look in the van and saw Wally sitting there in the passenger seat, mumbling to himself. Fish in a barrel, he kept saying. “What’s he doing here?” Brett asked.
“Relax,” Steve sighed. “He’s here to help you grab the comic. Plus, if things go wrong, he makes an excellent fall guy.”
Brett looked over to Wally, still buckled up in the passenger seat. Fish in a barrel. Fish in a barrel. He turned back to Steve and said, “You’re going to pin the robbery on him? But he’s in your care; it will lead right back to you.”
Steve put his hand up for silence, “I told you already, his mom thinks I have him doing chores. I’ll just say he wondered off from cutting the grass while I was taking a dump. I only live a few blocks away, it’s believable, trust me.”
“Okay, whatever. Let’s just do this,” said Brett. “How am I getting inside?”
“Well, I’ve been watching this guy through his Roger’s home security feed. I got the codes in his e-mail, hacked in without much problems. Best I can tell, the package was delivered yesterday and he is keeping it in a storage closet under the stairs. I’ve also learned that every morning after a coffee he spends about twenty-five minutes in the shitter and cracks the window just a tad to air out his filth until he comes home for lunch. Today was no different.”
“Even with a comic in there worth half a million dollars?”
Steve laughed. “I know, right? This geek is more retarded than Wally,” he said, jerking his thumb towards the savant in the van. “So,” he continued. “Are you ready to get fucking rich?”
Brett took a deep breath. “Let’s do this.”
The gate to the side of the house creaked loudly. Brett assumed that if he opened it slow, it would make less noise. This was not the case. The rusty hinges grinding against each other sounded like an elephant blowing out its trunk. Someone had to of heard that, he thought. All he needed now was a black cat to jump out from behind a trash can. He hadn’t even broken in yet and already he was having regrets. This wasn’t like him, he didn’t do stuff like this. He couldn’t turn back now though. That would just be one more thing Steve the dweeb could rub in his face.
He decided to keep on, but every few steps he would have to turn and signal to Wally to hurry up and get a move on. Wally didn’t much react to verbal commands; Brett found more luck with a snap or a wave. These signals became more and more dramatic each time he had to repeat himself. It was all very frustrating.
By the time they got to the window, cracked open just a tad as Steve said it would be, Brett had come to terms that he was not going to get much help from his autistic assailant. “I’m ditching Wally,” he said into the walkie-talkie that Steve had given him before they separated.
There was a brief silence from the other end and then, with a pop of static, Steve’s choppy and distorted voice returned, “It’s your call, bud. He can be the lookout. If anyone finds him there, they’ll just think he wondered in. The cameras have been cut so you are clear to go. Get in there and let’s get this over with…”
Brett turned to Wally, “You stay here, okay?”
The young boy looked down at his shoes, muttering. Fish in a barrel. Fish in a barrel.
“Forget it,” sighed Brett.
The window slid open in a pale blue, modestly decorated bathroom and a pair of black runners pushed their way inside, knocking figurines of The Hulk and Captain America off the window sill and into the toilet with a plunk! The shoes became legs, the legs became a body and then, after the intruders’ pudgy gut had squeezed its way through, there came a shiny bald head, glowing red from both exhaustion and embarrassment. The intruder, however discombobulated, was in. He used his walkie-talkie to notify his accomplice back in the van.
A sigh of elation came from the other end, “Yes! Great news, Brett! The comic is in the storage room under the stairs to your right when you exit the bathroom. Go get that sucker and we’re out of here!”
Brett took a deep breath, opened the bathroom door and crept into the hallway. His heart pounded so hard he thought it was going to tip off the neighbours. With each step, he half-expected someone to jump out at him; the police, the guy who owned the house, the Texas chainsaw massacre guy, a fucking two-headed tiger…
The hallway opened up into the main living room and his eyes fixed on the storage closet under the stairs. On the right. Just as Steve had said. The comic seemed to call to him from behind the wooden door; its energy grabbed hold of him and started to pull him in like a tractor beam. In his tunnel vision, he managed to walk into a small coffee table where sat a framed picture of the homeowner on his trip to the Grand Canyon. Both the picture and table were sent crashing to the floor, smashing and sending little shards of ceramic all across the tile flooring.
“Fuck!” he gasped, frozen still, waiting for the two-headed tiger to jump out and rip his face off. But there was no tiger, only an angry Steve shouting from the other end of the walkie-talkie.
“What the hell was that?” the distorted voice demanded. “You can’t be walking into tables like that!”
Brett’s face twisted and lifted the walkie-talkie to his lips. “I thought you said you cut the camera feed…”
There was a long pause before Steve returned. “I did,” he said. “But I could hear the smash from outside! You need to hurry up and grab that shit before we all get arrested!”
That was a sentiment to which Brett could not agree to more. He dashed to the closet and swung open the door like a madman. There it was, staring back at him, in all its nerdy glory. Sitting in its plastic wrap packaging on a packed box labelled VHS, was Amazing Fantasy #15. The familiar superhero in red and blue tights swung high over the city on a web. The cartoon text read, “Introducing Spider-Man”. The top right corner boasted its original sale price—twelve cents. Brett swiped it from the top of the box and barreled out of there like a freight train.
After parting ways with Steve and Wally, Brett rushed over to the library so he could finally see if Arlene had replied to his message. He sat down next to an older white man with pop bottle glasses and a comb-over. As he logged into his Tinder account he found himself hiding his password from the old man. After all, he knew what kind of crazy people were out there. Once logged in, he saw that Arlene had replied. His day was getting better and better. The message read:
Fireworks blasted off in his belly and a small smile crept further and further upwards until it seemed his face had split in half. He couldn’t remember the last time someone referred to him as ‘cute’. That Arlene…she sure was a gem. But Brett had never found much luck with the ‘gems’ in the past, strictly for the reason that those kinds of girls are all looking for men with money. But now, with the twenty grand coming his way after Steve found a buyer for the comic on the black market, he would be one of those guys. And he was going to spoil this girl, he decided; limo rides, fancy dinners with steak and lobster, maybe even dessert. You know you’ve made it when you can think about getting dessert. He opened up a chat box and typed:
>Do you like Steak and Lobster, Arlene?
His heart nearly skipped a beat when he saw she was replying just then. A moment passed, and then two, and then…
She used an emoticon! That was a sure sign of flirtation. His fingers danced across the keyboard as he punched in his next question:
>Would you like to get some Steak and Lobster with me?
There was a pause, one that to Brett seemed like forever and then, finally, she replied:
She said yes! Brett was ecstatic. He gave her his number so she could text him on Friday to let him know where the limo should pick her up and said goodbye, signed out from the computer and headed back out into the city. He probably could have flown home that day, gliding softly on the wings of new love, just like the crows…
As Brett fiddled with his keys in front of his apartment building he noticed there was a man by the mailbox, smiling at him. He had never seen the man around the building before but even still, the man seemed to recognize him. He smiled at Brett like they were old friends and even started to make his way over. He gave a neighbourly wave and said, “Brett Furlong? Brett Furlong, is that really you?”
Here we go, thought Brett. Another old fan about to comment on how much hair I’ve lost. “Yes, that’s me,” he said. “May I help you?”
The smile dropped from the strangers face as he pulled out a badge from the inner pocket of his jacket. “My name is Detective Mallory Heinz,” said the man. “Brett Furlong, you are under arrest for breaking and entering and theft over five thousand dollars—“
Brett swallowed hard and turned to run, but it was no use. Police in riot gear began to reveal themselves from the sides of houses, behind cars and trees; all of them pointing their weapons directly at Brett’s head. In one last Hail Mary effort, Brett turned back to the detective and with his most innocent face said, “There must be some kind of misunderstanding. I didn’t do any of that.”
Two large policemen grabbed him; one to hold him still, the other to put him into handcuffs. The cold steel closed tightly around his wrists. “I hate to tell you this,” said the detective, taking his time in reproaching. “But we have the whole thing on film. The homeowner had a security system in the house. You didn’t even wear a mask. Your fingerprints are everywhere. Brett…exactly how stupid are you?”
The detective had to have been lying. He had to. Otherwise, that would mean Steve had lied about cutting the feed. And that would mean Steve had been setting him up to take the fall all along…
A satisfied smile smeared across Steve’s face as he sat back in the driver’s seat of the van parked in the driveway of Wally’s mother’s house. He had just left an anonymous tip with the local Crime Stoppers Hotline, reporting he had seen a bald man creeping around a house over on Landen Avenue, leaving with what looked to be a comic book. Brett, that poor sap, had fallen for it hook, line, and sinker. How pleasant, Steve thought, that not only did he find someone to take the fall for the caper, but also got to get a little revenge on one of the many “cool” kids from high school that never gave him the time of day.
He had been so lost in his daydreams he almost forgot that Wally was still in the van with him, only coming back to reality when he saw the boy pick the comic up from the center console. He felt a sudden panic, as one would when a toddler picked up a glass vase. “Easy there, bud,” said Steve. He talked calm and slow, as one would to a jumper out on the ledge of a skyscraper. He slowly started to lean in, careful not to make any sudden movements, careful not to trigger one of Wally’s wild fits. His hand reached to snatch it back when suddenly…
BAM! A bang on the driver side door.
Steve turned around expecting to see the pretty Mrs. Henderson standing there in that floral dress he liked, asking how her son’s day was and then taking him inside for dinner with a smile and a thank you and a wave goodbye. He wasn’t expecting a gun and a badge belonging to Detective Mallory Heinz to be pointed directly at his face as the man yelled through the glass, “Get the fuck out of the car, asshole!”
The interrogation room was small and hot. The chairs were stiff and hurt your back. It was the kind of conditioning the cops used to break down suspects, Steve knew that. But Steve had a plan. He had a fail-safe. Detective Heinz walked in holding a coffee in a Styrofoam cup and a file folder. He sat down across from Steve and gave him a good stare, the kind of stare where you almost squint. That’s what they do to make you nervous, Steve knew that.
“You’re probably wondering why I dragged you down here,” said the detective. He gave his coffee a stir and a sip.
“I would say so!” said Steve. His voice cracked just a little. It hadn’t done that since high school. “I was just dropping off my autistic little brother. You see, I’m in the Big Brother program. What’s…what’s all this about?”
“Well, I’ll tell you, Steve,” the detective started. “There have been a string of fraud cases in the area lately. Mainly funds being taken out of accounts, emptying of savings, things like that. It was really driving us nuts over here at the station. After all, a serial fraudster is like a serial rapist. They’re not going to stop until they fuck and destroy everything in their path. And like a serial rapist, we have to figure out how this fraudster picks his victims. What do all these people have in common? And can you guess what we found?”
Steve shook his head. But he knew. He had planned for this.
The detective continued, “They had all recently been to the library to use their computers. So we pulled up the camera feed and can you guess what we saw?”
Steve knew that Wally was the one who would be in that feed, not him. Now he could pin the whole thing on Wally and walk away scot-free. He gave a long, dramatic exhale and then an empathetic head bow. “I think so,” Steve said. “I had suspected Wally, the boy from the program, might be using the computers for things other than YouTube. You see, he has what is called savant syndrome and he is capable of retaining a lot of information at remarkable speeds. If he wanted to, he could know what someone was typing into a computer just by watching the movements of their hands…Are you saying that Wally did this?”
Detective Heinz laughed quietly to himself. “Wow, Steve,” he said. “Trying to pin these crimes on a mentally challenged boy? I’ve heard some excuses in my day but…wow…ain’t that something.”
Steve raised his voice, “I’m serious! Check the cameras, you’ll see!”
The detective opened up the file folder and revealed a small stack of surveillance photos from the computer labs at the library. “That’s exactly what we did,” said the detective. “And little Wally, he wasn’t in them. But you were.”
Impossible, Steve thought. He scrambled through the pictures, picked one up and said, “Look! He’s right beside him!” It was hard to see. The way the camera was angled, the other man blocked Wally’s face completely; all you could see were his arms.
“That’s what you say,” said Detective Heinz. “But he’s pretty hard to identify in that picture. But you know who isn’t hard to identify?” The detective pointed to the picture where Steve stood by the water fountains looking incredibly watchful and guilty.
Steve scoffed and flipped through the next one, and then the next and then a next. In every picture Wally had been completely unidentifiable, blocked by a homeless man standing around doing nothing, a security guard standing around doing nothing, some post, some lens flare, some shadow. And in every one there stood Steve modelling varying shades of guilt. How, he thought. How is this possible?
And then it hit him.
Stephen Wiltshire, a twenty-two-year-old autistic savant, took a helicopter ride over London and when he returned home was able to draw an exact replica of the landscape down to every street, every car, every mailbox. With the capacity to retain that amount of information at a glance, then could it not be possible for Wally to have taken one look at the computer labs and have known exactly where each camera was, where they were pointing, and where he would have to sit to not be seen. It made sense now why sometimes he would walk around aimlessly before settling at a computer. Wally had outsmarted him. He had been duped…by a retard.
Mrs. Henderson cleared the dishes from the table. It was a late dinner tonight. With all the commotion, the police, and the questions, poor Wally must have been scared half-to-death. It was nice now that things had calmed down. The police didn’t tell her much. But it was scary to think that the man she had left in charge of her poor son was not the man he claimed to be. “Aren’t you going to eat your cake?” she asked her son, Wally, sitting at the table.
“I can eat cake in my room,” said Wally.
Mrs. Henderson smiled. “I suppose that would be fine, dear. Bring your plate back when you’re done. Okay, sweetie?”
“I’ll bring my plate back when I’m done. I’ll bring my plate back,” said the boy, shuffling off to his room.
Wally went upstairs and closed his bedroom door behind him. He placed his plate of cake on his dresser beside the lamp, sat down on the bed and lifted up his shirt, removing a comic book wrapped in a shiny coat from his waistband. He stared at it for a moment before he took it out from its shiny coat and held it in his hands. He liked the funny pictures. Eating his messy cake, he flipped through the pages under the lamplight. The red and blue guy was funny, but the old man died at the end and that was sad.
When he was done, he tossed the picture book under his bed and licked the chocolate off his fingers. He laid back on his pillow and stared up at the roof. He laughed softly, as to not be heard by his mother. Like fish in a barrel.