Higher Aspirations


Smitty and me had a big score planned on Friday. We’re spending Wednesday afternoon nursing beers at The Seven Mile House on Old Bayshore. Just passing time, trying to keep from getting too edgy. Smitty tended to be a little quick on the trigger. He had a habit of throwing a little lead around. Said it showed we meant business. I wanted to keep him from getting wound too tight.

We had been on the same cell block in Lompoc, both of us doing bits for armed robbery. We got out about the same time and continued down the same path, pulling scores where we could. There wasn’t a lot of money in it, but we were getting by. A corner grocery here, a bar there. But this score would set us up for a while, a payday haul at a day labor place in the valley. The harvest season was in full swing and that meant lots of cash.

The bar was quiet that time of day, just us and a couple of retired guys watching the Giants game with the sound turned down. Smitty liked it quiet, said the thing he hated about the joint was the constant noise. We got another beer. Smitty never talked much so he surprised me when he said, “I’ve been thinking about something.”

I usually did most of the thinking for us, so this came as a surprise.

“What about?”

“I got two strikes. I go down again I’m looking at life. Let’s be real here- we keep it up, sooner or later we get caught. You know it and I know it. It’s just a matter of time. If I’m going down for good, I want a little notoriety, know what I mean?”

Christ, this was a speech coming from Smitty. I didn’t think I had ever heard him say that much all at once.
He went on.

“A small-time stick-up artist is all I have ever been. I always thought I might have been more, you know, a big-time jewel thief or something. But here I am, pushing forty and I’m still robbing mom and pop shops. I wanna go out with some thunder. I wanna do something I’ll be remembered for, be someone people talk about.”

I ordered a couple more beers.

“Look Smitty, you know how much time we put into this plan. We pull this off we’re gonna be set for a while.”

“Yeah? We figure fifty or sixty K each? Might last a year. You know how we like to throw money around. Then what? We’re right back where we started, looking for the next score. The odds keep getting shorter, ya know? This racket gets tougher every day. I’m starting to think there’s no future in it.

He drank half his beer. Guess all that talking made him thirsty.

“In tenth grade- right before I dropped out – I wrote a story about my old man, about how he never threw a ball around with me and how my mother would send me to the bar at dinner time to bring him home. How he drank up most of what little money he had. The teacher said she cried when she read it. Said I had talent and that I should have higher aspirations. After all this time, I’ve decided she was right.”
He sat for a minute. Finished his beer.

“I’m gonna be a serial killer,” he announced. “I know plenty of motherfuckers should be on the receiving end of a bullet.”

He stood up and walked out of the bar.

I got another beer and thought about all he had said. I agreed with him about one thing- I’d end up doing life if I didn’t change my ways. It was like a cosmic brick hit me in the head. It was time. Time to go straight. See if I wasn’t capable of something better.

I got an honest job, doing construction. Met a girl, got hitched.

I never heard from Smitty again.

But every once in a while, I’d hear about a batch of unsolved killings, and I couldn’t help but wonder.

~ fin ~


Bill Baber’s writing has appeared at Crime sites across the web and in print anthologies—most notably from Shotgun Honey, Gutter Books, Dead Guns Press, Down and Out Books and Authors on the Air Press—and has earned Derringer Award and Best of the Net nominations. A book of his poetry, Where the Wind Comes to Play, was published in 2011. He lives with his wife and a spoiled dog in Palm Desert, Ca.