Gift Wrapped

12/22/23

“I’m not holding up a refrigerated van, Steve.”

“We’re not stopping the truck. We wait for the guys to deliver the packages.”

Jimmy groaned. “I don’t want a frozen turkey. I need stuff to sell. For cash. This Christmas racket is a dud.”

Steve wouldn’t mind a turkey or a cheesecake. Leena and baby Rose could use something better than cold cuts on white bread for the holidays. He ignored Jimmy’s grumbles and focused on the van. It was a white box, unmarked. Over the past few days, they had followed branded delivery trucks. They grabbed a dozen boxes before the recipients took possession. With mixed results. They pawned a vacuum cleaner and an air fryer for a fraction of their value, unwrapped toys and sweaters, munched on candy and mixed nuts. None of the loot went to waste but porch sweeping didn’t deliver the bounty they had hoped for.

“Private van. Might be something the sender wants to keep under the radar.”

“You still believe in miracles.” Jimmy lit a cigarette and let out an aggravated ribbon of smoke.

“Tis the season. Let’s see where the van’s going. Big house, big bucks.”

That mansion could not be called a house. It was surrounded by a wrought iron fence that would fetch a small fortune at the scrap yard. The ornate front gate was open.

“Cameras galore,” Jimmy mumbled.

Steve pulled up his hoodie and raised his neck gaiter. “Even shacks have cameras around here. We wait till the van turns the corner.” He parked the pickup under a massive oak, out of sight from the gate.

Five minutes later they were trotting toward the house. In their camo overalls, they blended with the surroundings. Six boxes of various shapes were stacked next to the front door. Steve was glad he’d brought heavy duty garbage bags. The boxes were heavy.

On their way out of the property, they looked like cartoon burglars with bulging sacks slung over their shoulders.

#

Jimmy lived in a moldy trailer park tucked away in a clump of ragged trees half a mile from the freeway. The pickup was under a lean-to Jimmy used as an outdoor kitchen when the urge to barbecue took him. The place was bleak but more convenient than Steve’s neighborhood that teemed with curious kids.

Jimmy got his knife out. He started with the smallest box.

The package, wrapped in bright red and gold paper with a big purple velvet bow on top was encased in bubble wrap.

“That’s not a turkey.” Jimmy gave the velvet bow to Steve. “For baby Rose.”

“Try to open it without ripping the paper.”

Jimmy sliced through the scotch tape and delicately removed the wrapping. Steve knew the smile on his friend’s face mirrored his own. The Joy of Christmas, right there.

Another cardboard box. “What do you think it is?” Steve said.

“Something fragile. Champagne glasses?” Jimmy laughed. He opened the box.

Reached in.

Screamed.

#

They took turns opening the boxes. The sickness in their stomachs and the shaking in their hands subsided, eventually. You can get used to anything, even a gift wrapped chopped up body.

“What do we do?” Jimmy was washing and rewashing his hands. They were raw from the cheap soap and the ice cold water.

“Stop doing that,” Steve said. The body parts were sealed in plastic. No leaks. “We take that shit back.”

Jimmy stuck his chapped hands in his pockets. “I’m not going back. With our luck, we’ll get pulled over.”

“You don’t have to go. Help me repack.”

It was like watching a movie in reverse. The velvet bow went back on the box that contained the head of an unknown bald man.

Steve drove the speed limit, forced himself to smoke a cigarette, window open, with an elbow sticking out, casual. When he reached the mansion, the big gate was closed. That was okay. He didn’t plan to carry the boxes to the porch. He stacked them in front of the majestic portal.

The recipient would think the delivery people were too lazy to ring the bell.

Unless somebody else snatched the boxes.

Steve smiled. Day before Christmas, there were thieves everywhere.

~ fin ~

me-proctor

M.E. Proctor was born in Brussels and lives in Texas. She’s currently working on a contemporary PI series. Her short fiction has appeared in Vautrin, Bristol Noir, Pulp Modern, Mystery Tribune, Reckon Review, Shotgun Honey, and Thriller Magazine among others. She’s a Derringer nominee. Her short story collection Family and Other Ailments (from Wordwooze Publishing) is available in all the usual places. Website: www.shawmystery.com