First published at Grift Magazine.
The plan was simple. We'd play the parts of the three Magi in the living nativity at St. Bart's. Then we'd steal the week's donations, while the parishioners partied with birthday cake, homemade cookies, and cider. Like I said, simple.
Bernie and I kinda looked the part. Alice not so much, but her mustache helped. I would've made her stay home, but the plan was her idea. She arranged for us to be the ones in the costumes and, being the church treasurer, knew the combination to the safe.
We met Bernie on the unemployment line the morning after Alice told me about her plan. He'd been out of work almost as long as we had. Alice liked him, said he was funny. I didn't think funny was a personality trait one would find on a thief's criminal profile, but when Alice threatened to not have sex with me for a week, I reconsidered.
We arrived early for the ten p.m. Christmas Eve service and got into our costumes. The beards, hats, and long robes provided a good disguise--not that we needed them. Everyone knew Alice and me. And no one in the church would suspect us of being thieves, especially mousy Alice. We stood, quiet as ripples in a stream, until the final blessing, then Bernie and I followed Alice as she gathered the night's collection and headed for the office. Bernie took our costumes back to the changing room. I watched the hallway. Alice removed the money accumulated during the week from the safe and put it and the evening’s donations in the duffle bag she'd hidden in her desk earlier in the day. She knelt on one knee before standing.
"I hate to do this," she said. "A lot of people are going to go without this year." She stood with her head bowed.
I stepped next to her and put my arm on her shoulders. "I know how you feel, but we've been without for over a year. We don't have a choice." I squeezed her and took the satchel from her. "Besides," I said with a smile, "once we hit it big in Vegas, we can send the church a check for the money we took--plus interest."
"That's the plan," Alice said without enthusiasm. She crossed herself and took my hand. "Let's get out of here."
"How much did we get?" I asked Alice. We were back at her house, the one she got in the divorce four years ago. It'd been on the market for eight months, but she hadn't got any offers. Bernie lay on the sofa, snoring through open lips.
"Six thousand, three hundred and forty-five dollars." She said. "It was a better week for donations than last year." She nodded toward Bernie and lowered her voice. "He didn't do all that much. Do we need to give him an even share?"
I glanced toward the couch. "Na. We'll tell him we only got four thousand and his cut is twenty-five percent." Bernie kept snoring. "Why don't we leave it on the kitchen table? We don't need to wake him."
Alice nodded and started putting the money in an overnight bag, setting Bernie's share aside. I left to take a leak before packing the car. It was a seven hour trip from Tucson to Vegas. We'd be on the road by midnight. Traffic should be light and there wasn't any bad weather predicted. Hopefully, we could make it in six. I dried my hands, exited the bathroom, and headed down the hall. When I reached the kitchen, I saw Alice facedown on the floor. I stepped into the room and felt something hard hit my head.
I awoke to a hand rocking my shoulder and someone calling my name. At first, I thought it was Alice. It wasn't.
"Come on, James. Wake up."
I opened my eyes. I didn't recognize the face. I did the badge.
"Come on. We know about the robbery."
"An anonymous tip."
I looked up and saw the small stack of bills on the table. Bernie. That bastard.