My boy’s a klepto, too.
Takes stuff without meaning to sometimes, like me. Little hood, all set to start high school. Trying his best.
I think about him a lot. I’ll be hangin’ from ceiling tiles trying to steal back some urban magician’s stupid book, and his face’ll fill my mind. Wish I could visit him more, but I know I bring nothing but trouble.
Still. I keep on grinning, even while I'm runnin' away and stealin' things and beddin' Black Widows, ‘cuz I know there’s one thing in this world I didn’t screw up.
That’s him. And that’s enough.
I visited my redheaded baby the other day.
The oldest of a crop of foster kids, living in the same cabin in the woods where I left him, with Jenny’s red hair and my impish face. I had been checking in on him. Always in detention, or else cheatin’ death.
He knew who I was.
He glared like he wanted to kill me. I expected him to flip me off and run. Instead, he squeezed me so hard it hurt.
“I hate you! Why’d you have to leave?”
It dawned that I used to be a hugger too. I wept.
I hate magic.
I hate sorcerers and wishes and all that crap. Anyone who’d grant you a wish is out to screw you. The only honest magician who ever lived was Seesaw, and she’s dead now. Girls in her business expire fast.
My golden-haired boys' curse was real after all. Both died the day before they turned thirteen. Perfect sons, limited warranty.
Stealing’s all I was ever good for, so I'm still doing it. Mobsters bring too much publicity—I work for magicians only now. They keep me hidden, I keep them rich.
Still afraid to die. Still a screwup.
Jo embraced me at the door. “That baby face! You haven’t aged.”
My brother fired a million questions. Where was I all these years? How’d I find their address? Where’d I get that Rolex? Why’d I look awful? Were those bullet holes? Meanwhile, Jo smothered me in food and blankets, still in her badge and uniform.
Jo and him were cops.
I already knew this when I came, but I didn’t think my brother would rat me out. I still thought he was a good man, remember?
“But he’s family!” Jo cried after he dialed. I ran away. Again.
First time in a while I got hugged by an assassin.
“Don’t you have any other family?” Seesaw asked.
“I was disowned.” But that reminded me about my brother and Jo.
“Come home with me, then.”
Seesaw’s house was tiny, dilapidated. I watched through the window as she and her hitman hubby argued. The big goon cradled their baby, lookin’ scared. Scared? Of me?
“But he’s a burglar.”
“He just lost everything. Please.”
That li’l girl trusted me. That made me sick. No way was I gonna ruin another family. Before Seesaw could open the door again, I was gone.
Seesaw met me in a café, no mask, plainclothes, smiling real pleasant. “Who do you need me to take care of?”
Deep breath. “I’d like to put a hit on myself.”
Her smile wiped away, and I explained all of it: my recklessness, my bastard babies, even the wish that was responsible for their existence, and the wife I never married who died without her candy apple hair. “I just want it to end.”
Then Seesaw stood. “I told you, I don’t kill good people.”
“I ain’t a good person.”
She was crying. “Well, I don’t kill my friends.”
The day Jenny died, I jumped off a building.
Caught myself, though. Jumping off buildings was a regular part of my job. If only I knew how to die.
That afternoon, I robbed a bank through the front door, but I didn’t take a cent. Just aimed my gun at the teller and cried until the cops came.
The handcuffs were easy. The door lock, less so, but I got it and rolled out onto the highway. Wasn’t the first time. I wish I would’ve let them shoot me.
I didn’t know what else to do, so I called Seesaw.
No way a screwup like me could raise a problem child like him. Back on the farm, when a cat had kittens we couldn’t afford, Pop threw them down the well.
I looked around. There was a river in the woods nearby.
Found a discarded cardboard box for him. Moses had a cardboard box, right? I ignored my heartrate. As always, my boy was crying.
You don’t wanna grow up in this world, baby. I won’t let this world break you too.
But I yanked the box back out before the current could steal it. I was still a coward.
We had to get rid of our babies.
I insisted. A rotten father like me couldn’t raise them alone. We found this rich couple lookin’ to adopt online.
Two racist shitbags, though. They only wanted the blonde boys. Our redheaded baby, they said, was bound to be a hood.
My gun almost persuaded them, but I couldn’t shoot, not in front of my sons. Those assholes called the cops, so I cradled my youngest and fled.
Jenny lived in the hospital now, leaving me our problem child. Freckled, ugly, never stopped crying. My favorite. What to do with him now?
Y’know, Jenny really was terrified to death of hospitals. She wouldn’t have entertained the thought of checking herself in, not even for a heart attack.
I took Seesaw’s advice and went home, to the celebration of my golden-haired boys. The baby was a redhead like his mama—no magic in his blood, I guess. Jenny was a bitch to me, as usual.
All those months, I should’ve been there huggin’ my own girl instead of everyone else’s. If I had, I would’ve felt the lumps sooner. When I held her that night, there were rocks inside her puffy red breasts.
Six holes in her gut, but Seesaw was walkin’ and talkin’ in the morning. Said she owed me for saving her life.
We chatted during breakfast, just a hitter and a thief talkin’ about their kids. I had three boys now. Hadn’t seen them in months.
Seesaw seemed concerned. “Knave, go back home to Jenny.”
She was still weak. While she napped I called her husband and hid. (The goon always looked like he wanted to eviscerate me.)
I watched him half-carry her outta my hideout. Conflicted. You better take good care of that poor li’l girl, I thought.
Once I saved Seesaw’s life.
Even assassins have bad nights. With six bullets in her gut, she fainted soon as I brought her to my hotel room. Lucky for her, magicians were a lot harder to kill than ordinary guys like me.
Without her mask, she looked like a little kid. Turned out she was young enough to be my daughter.
What drove a li’l girl to kill for a living? Praying hard she wouldn’t die, I stitched her up best I could.
“How’d you know how to do that?” she asked afterward.
“I…I used to wanna be a vet.”
When I say “assassin” you’d think “coldblooded,” but Seesaw was married, had a kid. I know this ‘cuz I made the mistake of tryin’ to blackmail her.
Came home that night to find her and her goon of a husband in my flat, Jenny makin’ them cookies, Seesaw holding our boys.
“Hello, Knave of Hearts,” she smiled.
She’d come to kill me, but changed her mind when she saw Jenny. Said she never killed good dads, and made us form a truce: no blackmailing or murdering each other.
I prayed to God she’d never realize I wasn’t a good dad.
Hospitals terrified Jenny, so our boys were born at home the old fashioned way. I delivered each one, cleaned him up nice. This shocked her. I guess she thought all I was good for was burglin’ and pissin’ off mobsters.
“How d’you know this stuff?”
I laughed. “I used to wanna be a vet.”
Two boys. Got their golden blonde hair from the wish (the curse?) but I didn’t tell Jenny about that. She didn’t believe in magic. Most folks still didn’t.
We were kinda old for kids. She’d been barren until now. Figured I’d use the wish on her.
Female assassins are the greatest. You never know if they wanna bang you or just kill you. Practically every other one calls herself “The Black Widow.” Each gal has the same hardboiled hardwired personality.
Well, except Seesaw.
Seesaw was a magician. I never did her. Not my type. Weirdest thing about her, she picked her targets—cared less about money than she did about playin’ vigilante. One time I saw her kill the guy who hired her instead of her target ‘cuz he was a rotten bastard.
She smiled while she did it. She scared me more than any Black Widow.
“Klaus, please come home.”
Jenny was always whinin’ about that, but I was nothin’ but trouble for her. Thugs never bothered her as long as I was far away, and I intended to keep it like that.
“I need you.”
She needed money, or else we were both back out on the street. Mob bosses paid good for burglars of my skill. Long as I was out earning, she could eat.
“You’re seeing other women, aren’t you?”
She still turned tricks for a living, so I counted us even.
“I miss you.”
Well, that was stupid. I wasn’t worth missing.
Padlocked safe? Piece of cake.
Motion sensors? I’ll deactivate them.
Magic security? Hell, I’m no magician, but neither are half the guards who claim they are. Besides, chloroform ain’t magic-proof.
I’ve stolen rings off of rich men’s fingers. I’ve broken into City Halls.
You see, you learn a lot when you grow up with trees to climb but no one to climb them with, when you’re smarter than your teacher but can’t be bothered to do schoolwork, when your fingers naturally tremble and thieve.
People call me the Knave of Hearts. ‘Cuz I steal hearts, too. Ladies, watch out.
Jenny was dumb, but she wasn’t stupid. Eventually, she learned about everything.
“You really killed two guys when you were a kid?”
I couldn’t bear her lookin’ at me like that. “It was self defense.”
“When you were a kid, Klaus?”
Honestly, she was the only person who could ever make me cry. I broke down in her arms and told her about my neighbor, how he threatened me, how he killed my horse. About the other guy, too. She soothed my mind, then my body.
Come midnight, I mumbled, “I’d do anything for you.”
“Then marry me.”
Shortly after I convinced Jenny to move in with me, she noticed a bloodstained Benjamin I accidentally dropped. 'Til then she thought I was a clerk. By the end of that day, we were fleeing the same gang who’d employed me the past few months. They figured out I was helping myself to more than my cut of each job.
The leader claimed he was a magician, but he lied. If he was, I wouldn’t have shot him so easily. He knew as much magic as I did—squat.
Hadn’t killed since I was a kid, but he threatened my Jenny.
I had the face and stature of some forever-young imp, but Jenny liked me anyway. Said she liked that even though I sounded like a country boy, I talked fast. The only word I ever stretched out was her name, “Jenny," like some fast-talking Forrest Gump.
Her hooker name was “Candy Apple” ‘cuz of her flaming hair, but I never called her that. She didn’t like it. Hated her job. We were both high school dropouts. Screw-ups.
I always said “I’d do anything for you” and she’d say “Then marry me.” And oh, I wish I had.