Fiction: Carla Welcomes Callers

Carla had walked down the street from the bus stop pulling her wheeled shopping basket. It had now been three years that she and Tom had given up their car but so far they had managed to live without it. There were a few inconveniences having to rely on public transit but generally people had been helpful. That bus driver was very nice offering to carry her basket off the bus. Yes, Carla and Tom had given up a bit of their freedom but they were getting up in years and with things being tight with their pensions, it was good to not be spending money on a car for gas, maintenance, and insurance. Every dollar counted.

And speaking of every dollar, the grocery store had their steaks on sale so Carla decided to splurge. Tom was going to be tickled pink when he got a look at tonight's dinner. Add in some fried mushrooms and a baked potato and the two of them were going to have a meal fit for a king. Oh, and a queen. Carla smiled to herself at her little joke. It was fun making themselves out to be the royal couple. Ha ha.

Carla unlatched the metal mesh gate and pulled her basket onto the walkway. She turned around to shut the gate and make sure that it was securely in place. Last week she had looked out the window to discover the gate wide open and two dogs running around their yard. Maybe Tom had not closed it properly but then again, it could have been her. She'd be more careful.

Stepping around the basket, Carla took the handle and started pulling it up the walk. When she got to the steps leading to the front porch, she stepped ahead of the basket and carefully pulled it up and over each step. She might not be able to lift the loaded basket but with a little finesse she could wheel it up and down stairs. Once the basket was over the last step and on the porch itself, Carla stopped for a moment to catch her breath. She looked up and down the street. A few children were visible in a yard a few doors down but it was relatively quiet. They were the oldest couple on the street, Carla and Tom, Grandma and Grandpa. Well, they were grandparents to their own grandkids but being the last of the previous generation in the neighbourhood made Carla realise just how long they had lived in their house.

Carla sighed. She then turned to the front door and pulled open the screen door. She opened the heavy wooden front door and holding the screen door with one hand, pulled the basket around her into the house. Carla let the screen door shut on its automatic closer. She pulled the basket out of the way and shut the front door.

Carla spoke up, "Tom?" Carla took off her coat and hung it up. She wondered where her husband had gotten off to. "Tom?" Carla listened. It was quiet. She picked up her purse and took two steps in the hall to the double doors that led into the living room. The doors were always open and Carla thought the last time they had ever closed the doors was when all the kids came to visit with their families two years ago. They didn't have enough beds for everybody so the living room had turned into a makeshift bedroom.

She stood looking into the living room not believing her eyes. There was Tom sitting in a wooden straight back chair in the middle of the room with a pillowcase over his head. His hands had been taped to the arm of the chair and his legs were taped to the front legs. "Tom?" Carla stepped towards her husband. She held her purse up and grasped the handle with both hands a look of complete bewilderment on her face.

The next thing Carla remembered was being face down on the floor. She had no idea how she got there. She had no idea what happened. Did she faint? She heard unfamiliar voices.

"What the hell did you do that for?"

Carla didn't recognise the voice.

"I thought she was going for her purse." This voice was a little deeper than the first voice.

"So?" The voice sounded angry.

"I thought she might have been going for her cell phone. Maybe to phone the police?" The last sentence took the form of a question as the voice seemed to asking forgiveness from the first person.

"What?" There was a twinge of exasperation in the voice. After a pause, the voice resumed with a calmer tone. "Lennie, how much do you weigh?"

There was a moment of silence as the person seemingly tried to understand how this new topic of conversation was pertinent to the discussion. "Ah, two hundred and forty?" Once again the deeper voice sounded unsure. Where was this going?

"And how much do you think the old woman weighs?"

There was some movement of feet on the floor. The deeper voice was fidgeting a bit. "I dunno. A hundred?"

"So, that means you outweigh her by one hundred and forty pounds." The higher voice coughed. "You are nearly a foot taller than her. You are stronger than her. If you thought she was going to go for her cellphone, why didn't you just take the purse from her?"

There was a moment of silence. "You said they shouldn't see our faces, George."

"I…" The higher voice trailed off. It would seem that Lennie had made a point that George couldn't refute. "Get another pillowcase!" commanded George.

Carla felt the cloth being pulled over her head. She was still dazed from the open handed slap which had knocked her to the ground. Hands grabbed her arms and lifted her off the floor. She was forced into a chair and she heard tape being pulled off a roll. Carla clenched her fists as somebody wrapped tape around her forearms and her ankles. She was securely fixed to the chair.

"That's enough. Now let's go see if we can find their stash." Carla heard the steps creak as the men went upstairs. It was quiet for a moment then some muffled noises came from somewhere overhead.

Carla turned to her right and whispered, "Tom! Tom! Are you all right?"

"I'm here, Carla," said her husband to her left.

Carla turned to her left and continued whispering. "What the heck is going on? Who are these men?"

"I have no idea. I never saw them. One minute I was walking into the living room, the next minute I was being grabbed from behind and having a hood put over my head. I'm guessing I'm taped to a dining room chair."

"That's what it looked like before… before…"

"Before what? I heard something like a slap. Did they hit you? You fell on the floor?"

"I guess… yes. My right cheek is pretty sore right now. But what do they want?"

Carla could see some light and dark through the material of the pillowcase but was pretty much blind. She thought she could see the outline of her husband next to her.

"They haven't talked too much in front of me but from what little I've heard, and from what they just said, they seem to think we have something valuable here in the house."

"Like what?"

"I have no idea. Either they have gotten faulty information from somewhere or they have come to the wrong house. Whatever the case, they are determined to search the premises looking for our hidden gold."

"But what are they going to do when they find out we don't have anything of value? Are they going to kill us?"

"I'd like to say no but I'm not sure at this point of what they may be capable of. Although, I haven't heard any mention of guns."

"They don't necessarily need a gun to kill us."

"They have put pillowcases over our heads so we can't see them. Somehow that makes me think they don't want murder on their hands. Up to now, this has just been a robbery. Maybe they are not prepared to go to the next level."

"The big one hit me, well, slapped me. If they don't find what they're after, they may get angry with us." Carla leaned closer to Tom. "Tom, I'm scared."

Tom leaned closer to his wife. "We're going to make it, Carla." He felt his wife's head was almost next to his. He strained a bit and managed to touch part of her head with his forehead.

Carla strained to touch Tom. She pulled on the tape around her right hand. It yielded slightly. Carla sat back up. She twisted her right arm. The sticky part of the tape pulled at her skin but she managed to turn her arm slightly. There was a certain looseness to the tape. It seemed as if her clenching her fists had kept her arm up a bit off the arm of the chair so the man didn't tape her tightly to the chair. She had a little room to move.

"Tom, my arm is a bit loose." Carla twisted her arm back and forth trying to rotate it under the tape.

"Can you get out? I've tried several times but they have done a good job of taping me to the chair."

"Maybe." Carla's twisting had freed her arm from the stickiness of the tape and now she was trying to pull it back under the tape. She twisted her arm some more and tried pulling again. The tape was tight around her hand but she kept pulling hoping the tape would stretch. "I might be able to get it." Carla twisted then pulled again. She grunted with the effort but she could feel her hand slipping slowly through the tape.

All of a sudden her hand popped out. "I got my right hand out." Carla immediately reached up and yanked the pillowcase off of her head. She blinked for a moment and looked at her husband. "Give me a second to get free." She set to work trying to free her left hand. It took a moment to locate the end of the tape then she began to unwind it from the arm of the chair.

Carla could hear the men searching the rooms upstairs. Drawers were being opened then closed and there was occasionally movement between the rooms. How much time did she have?

Carla leaned over and started unravelling the tape around her legs. This part was much easier.

A voice from upstairs yelled, "Lennie?"

"Yes, George."

"Did you hear something?"

"Hear what?"

"Go downstairs and check on those people." Distinct steps could be heard coming down the hall to the stairs.

Carla panicked. She took off the last bit of tape and hurried out of the chair to cross the room. She looked around madly and spied a large cut glass vase on the dining room table. It was substantial and heavy. She picked it up then stepped behind one of the living room doors. Heavy steps were coming down the stairs.

The steps stopped just outside in the hall. "What?" The voice sounded surprised. Obviously the man was taken aback to see that Carla was no longer in her chair. The larger man with the deep voice walked into the living room towards Tom. "Hey mister, where did that woman go?"

Carla walked up behind the man and swung the vase. It hit the back of the man's head with a resounding thunk and sort of bounced off the skull. For a moment, the man didn't move. Had Carla knocked him out? The man slowly turned towards Carla. He seemed to be unaffected by the blow or was he dazed?

Carla wound up and swung the vase up and around and brought it crashing down on the man's forehead with all the force she could muster. This time though, instead of the vase bouncing, it slammed into the skull and broke into several pieces. The man's eyes rolled back in his head and he fell down the ground. He didn't move. Was he dead?

A voice from upstairs screamed, "Lennie? Lennie?" Mad footsteps came running down the hall and started trampling down the stairs. "Lennie? Lennie?"

The man arrived at the foot of the stairs and could see into the living room. "Lennie!" He ran forward and saw his large friend lying on the floor with broken glass around him. "You bitch!" He angrily let out a backhand and caught Carla on her right cheek, the same cheek Lennie had hit earlier. Carla fell backwards from the force of the blow and hit the floor.

George looked at Lennie. "Lennie?" George leaned over. "Lennie?" There was no response. George turned to Carla and hissed, "You better not have killed him." However, Carla had already gotten up and was starting towards the living room doors. George madly reached out to grab her but only managed to partially get a hold of some clothing. There was a ripping sound then Carla lost her balance and fell forward onto the floor in the hall. George stomped forward. "You bitch. You're going to pay for that."

Carla was panicking. She crawled a few steps then turned back to face George obviously frightened about what he might do. She crawled backward into a stand of umbrellas and boots and everything came crashing onto the floor in a clatter. George stepped forward, his face red with anger. He pointed at Carla and yelled, "Damn you!"

George went to leap onto Carla. Carla reached to one side and picked up an umbrella as a weapon. She held it with the point out towards George. George jumped and the point hit the middle of his chest just to the right of the breast bone. The weight of George's body drove the length of the umbrella to the floor and the handle caught on a groove in the tiles and wedged itself tightly into a fixed position. George fell onto the umbrella and the force of his body weight drove all four inches of the exposed point into his chest. The look of anger on George's face turned into utter surprise. There was a moment when George was suspended over Carla on the shaft of the umbrella then the balance changed and George fell to the floor on his side, the umbrella still embedded in his chest. Carla stared at him shaking with fright. George's eyes were wide, saucer shaped, glazed over in surprise or pain. He was looking right at Carla but it was like he wasn't looking at her at all.

Carla pulled away from George and jumped up. She slowly backed away staring in shock at the man and the umbrella sticking through his shirt into his chest. George was shaking and making gurgling sounds. Was he dying?

Carla ran back into the living room. She pulled the pillowcase off of her husband's head. "Oh, Tom." She threw her arms around her husband.

"The police, Carla, the police!" he exclaimed. Carla yanked at the tape around Tom's left arm. "That's enough! That's enough! Phone the police immediately!"

Carla saw that Tom could continue like she did with one hand free so turned and ran to the kitchen. She dialed 9-1-1 and waited for somebody to respond then excitedly said, "We're being robbed! 285 Greendale Avenue. The men are still in the house. Send the police!"

Tom worked to get himself out of the tape not paying much attention to what his wife was saying to emergency dispatch. As soon as he was out of the tape, he jumped up and ran to his wife. He grabbed her and they ran back to go out the front door. The large man was still lying on the floor not moving. Had Carla cracked his skull? Carla briefly looked at the smaller man in the hallway. He was still laying on the floor the umbrella sticking into him. He wasn't moving and he was no longer making any noises. Had she killed him? Then again, he had been so angry, what would have he done to her?

Tom and Carla ran down the front steps of the house and down the length of the walk. Tom yanked open the gate then the two of them started down the street trying to put as much distance as possible between them and the house. They both saw a police cruiser turn onto their street and started waving their arms and yelling.

The newspapers had a field day with the story: two robbers in their thirties are subdued by a seventy-eight year old lady. There was a front page photo of the two bad guys being wheeled out of the house on stretchers, the bigger man having suffered a concussion and the smaller one sustaining a stab wound. The police at the scene were at first surprised then chuckling about the story. Tom took no credit but completely backed up the statement of his wife. Carla may have been scared but she rose to the occasion and two slightly incompetent would be thieves ended up getting far more than they bargained for. That's the price Lennie and George had to pay for not going to the correct house next door belonging to the Henderson's who were away on vacation.

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