Written by Addie Barnett
As a small child, you get used to hearing your parents tell everyone about how you are going to be a doctor, a lawyer or, better yet, an astronaut.
My parents were a different breed.
They had no expectations for me, but when I came home and announced I would be a pool cleaner, they wrinkled their noses and turned away. The rift only grew bigger when my boss turned out to be the rich guy from across the street, who had made his fortune from the stock market.
I vowed never to do that to my own.
All that mattered was that, in the end, I had my dream job.
When the boss was away, the pool was all mine.
My first day at Mr. Jackson’s mansion entailed a cloudless baby-blue sky, a towering building which sent shivers down my spine and palm trees whooshing in the wind as limber as the lap dancers I had seen frequenting this house. Cigarette between lips and cap in hand, I had followed the penguin-suited butler through endless corridors adorned with family portraits, through rooms three times larger than my apartment, and through a kitchen so massive I had thought this was where they filmed Gordon Ramsey’s shows. Two slick dobermans, saliva frothing from their coffee-brown mouths, had glared at me as I approached the chaise longue Mr. Jackson sprawled into every morning to read his daily newspapers.
My eyes had glanced at his ringed fingers before they were quickly stolen away by something far more tempting. The pool had filled my ears with its shy splashes and had tickled my nostrils with its chlorine scent until my veins thrummed with its every whirlpool and my muscles beckoned me to jump.
“Harvey,” a voice had called out to me and I had shook my head.
The butler was gaping at me as if I was a circus monkey.
“Let’s leave Mr. Jackson to his business,” a skeletal hand touched me on the arm, and I refrained from recoiling at its coldness.
That’s all I remember from that day.
As for my second, that’s when the chaos began.
My favorite hour of the day has always been dawn. It is the moment when all is silent, when even the birds have not begun to rise and chirp, let alone the exhausted humans, too stressed and overworked to fathom awaking at such an hour.
Except for me, Mr. Jackson was the only person awake.
I was cleaning the pool, listening with intent as the friction of my net made upon the water, which had turned dark blue as the night shadowed it. All my senses were, quite naturally, relaxed. My eyelids watched a fixed point before me, my ears heard only the shy gurgle of water, my nose tasted chlorine and Cuban cigars, my arms moved by default.
Mr. Jackson offered me a cocktail, a Sex on the Beach if I recall correctly. I refused. He insisted. We drank. He told me a joke. I laughed. He watched the sunrise. I watched his pool.
It all began when he went back inside to get his laptop.
A shriek so loud I had to cover my ears, lest they explode, made the windows groan under its weight, goading my heart into fluttering like a terrified rabbit hunted by his arch nemesis, the fox. I crouched and waited for what seemed like ages, eyelids shut tight, every muscle locking so no sound could penetrate my being.
When it stopped I unlocked myself and made my way inside, trembling with every step like a feeble old man who had only one day more to live and clung to it with all his might.
Mr. Jackson lay in a pool of his own blood, in the middle of his white living room. His eyes were plastered on a wall where, just the other day, the Mona Lisa had been hanging, bought from the Louvre itself.
How my master had accomplished such a feat I never learned. I did suspect something was amiss. But these silly questions never escaped my lips.
The white plush carpet was turning pink with every second, as the blood trickled towards me. I took a step back and wheezed, my mind bracing itself for the upcoming shock.
Someone had stolen the Mona Lisa and had killed my master.
And the police would suspect me, their fingers lingering on my bloodstained files. My eyes flashed to the telephone and my hand reached out to it instinctively. I had to call someone.
What was the butler going to think when he came down to inspect the origins of that mad shriek?
I dialed the only number I thought could help me and fled with the telephone in hand. When the police would get here, it was best if they found no trace of me.
The next two days were also a blur. I recall running until my feet ached, sleeping in bushes, eating from garbage cans, and flinching at every siren.
I remember when Mike answered and relief flooded my grief-stricken body before feeling jarred when he admitted he was the one who had taken the painting.
“What got into you?” I seethed as my fingers brushed the face of the painted lady, ignoring Mike out of spite more than actual anger. “With my records, the cops are surely going to catch us.”
“It was the perfect moment, Mortimer. The bastard was on his own and you weren’t even near him. No one was.”
“I ran away. That’s reason enough for the cops to come after me. An innocent person doesn’t run, Mike,” I whirled around, feeling for the knife I always had on me. “I told you to wait.”
“If I had, you would have fallen in love with the pool and never left. You always do that, Mo. It’s like the pools have some sort of weird power on you that turns your brain into complete mush, and you stare at it for hours and hours on end. Remember when one spoke to you and you jumped in it and almost died?”
It was true. That only made me angrier.
“Don’t tell me you didn’t feel the urge to jump in this one, either. I had to do it. For both of us. Now we can fence this damn thing and go to the Caribbean. This was the last job, right?” Mike rested one of his calloused hands on my shoulder and his chocolate eyes caught mine. “Right?”
“Right,” I forced the word through gritted teeth, refusing to stare at the painting. “You could have let Jackson live. That way the police wouldn’t come for us for first-degree murder.”
“That bastard made his fortune off the backs of the poor. He didn’t deserve to live.”
Mike’s family had been the first to fall in one of Jackson’s stock schemes and even after killing off the man responsible, I could see his thirst had not been quenched.
It never would. Revenge is a fickle lover.
“It was not your decision to make,” I sighed and removed his hand off my shoulder. “You’re alone in this, Mike. I’m done.”
I have no idea what came over me. Really. Maybe I had seen too much bloodshed over the past five years me and Mike had worked together.
Maybe I was just tired and wanted a normal life.
That all ended when Mike stuck a knife in my back and left me to die on a deserted street.
I even saw it coming too.
The good thing about being a wanted felon was that the police were always watching. They found me before I bled out and took me to the hospital.
I gave Mike up with no remorse whatsoever and took increasing pleasure when we faced each other in court, and he went to jail, dressed in a Hawaiian shirt he had been meaning to wear on his flight to the Caribbean.
The Mona Lisa returned to the Louvre, as it should.
I watched as my son digested the story, his eyes flickering to the real Mona Lisa, hidden in our basement.
“So this is the real one?”
I nodded and pointed to her face. “This lady has seen a lot of blood in her days. Be careful with her.”
Louie grabbed my hand and shook it with tears in his eyes. “Thank you, Pop. I’ll take care of her, don’t you worry.”
“I know you will.”
“Family comes first.”
“Blood is thicker than water,” I hugged my son as he went to buy himself a new house.
He needed a big one, if it were to fit a wife and three children.
As for me, I returned to where it all began. Under the warm sun, on a mattress floating in Mr. Jackson’s pool.
Only now, it wasn’t his anymore.
It was my son’s.