Grady sat at his kitchen island in the dark of night. In the dim light of a small over head light, he gently dismantled and cleaned his Smith & Wesson. He took his time, like caring for a child.
When he was done, he laid it to rest in a box that was on the counter. With it safely place in the back of a drawer, he tiptoed down the hall towards his bedroom. Only the sound was grasshoppers playing music.
As he came near the first door in the hallway, he slowed. He drew near, expecting only to hear chirping. He heard hushed giggling.
He rolled his eyes with the doorknob. His teenage son was sitting up on his bed while his five-year-old sat on the floor, drawing in his sketchbook.
"I thought you two were asleep an hour ago." He placed his hand on his hips, making his shadow encompass both of them.
"He won’t go to sleep!" Brody said, falling back to bed.
"Oh, really," he replied, picking up his little one, "now, why don’t you want to go to sleep, Arthur?" He sat on the toddler bed.
"It’s not bedtime!" he said, snuggling into his dad.
"Eahh, yeah it is-" he dipped Arthur into bed, "I already tuck you in once tonight."
"But you didn’t tuck in Brody," he yawned.
"Brody's getting too old to be tucked in." He brought the blanket up to Arthur's chin. "He doesn't want to be tucked in anymore."
"But…" Arthur trailed off as his eyes widened.
"Just do it, dad," Brody pounded on the bed, "or none of us are getting to sleep!"
He got up and pulled Brody’s blanket up the rest of the way up. With the blanket neatly placed, he looked back at Arthur, who had rolled over with his arm dangling over the edge. "Thank you, Brody," he whispered, shaking his hand through Brody’s hair.
"Don’t mention it." He rolled over to hide his uncontrollable smile.
The following day, a man in a black truck pulled up to Arthur's kindergarten at the end of the day. His music roamed loud enough to hear outside of the cabin. He didn't turn off his vehicle when he stepped out onto the sidewalk.
Onsight, Arthur jumped off of his place on the school bench next to a young woman and ran for him. His backpack that was half his size made it difficult, but he made due. "Thompson!" he yelled, holding his arms up.
"Hi, buddy." He shrank to his size.
Arthur swung himself forward into a hug as he said an elongated good.
Grasping the boy fully, Thompson stood just in time to see the woman stand. Her brown eye peered into him like judgment day, but, amusingly, her springy curls bounced around as she walked near. "Mr. Phillips, if you want to continue picking up your nephew, I would suggest being on time from now on."
"I'm sorry, Ms. Jones, for wasting your time. I'll make sure it never happens again."
"Thank you." She flashed him a smile. "And I'll see you back here on Monday, Arthur."
"Bye, Mizz. Jones," he said, putting out his little fist.
She tapped it before returning to the school. "Oh yeah, turn down the music. Are you trying to wake the dead?"
Fixing his grasp on Arthur, he asked, "You ready to go home?"
"Not today." He opened the rear driver's side door.
Before sitting down in his seat, Arthur pleaded a please accompanied by a foot down on the matter.
"Fine, only for a few minutes. I don't know when your father's getting home."
With a gigantic smile, Arthur jumped into his seat and buckled himself before Thompson could close the door.
An hour after the two of them left for the park, Thompson juggled carrying a sleeping Arthur, teetering the backpack on his shoulder, and shimming a key into the locked front door. They made it through the door but not before Thompson's abundant amount of keys tumbled to the floor.
In response to the bang, Arthur stretched. "Thompson?" he yawned.
Thompson tossed his head back. With a heavy exhale, he lowered the boy and took the opportunity to pick up his keys. He was barely standing when Arthur started pulling him towards the kitchen.
Transferring from the carpet to the kitchen tile, Arthur let go of Thompson's hand and walked to the table with a skip in his step. He pulled out a chair for Thompson then squirmed his way up into the neighboring chair. With his chin just above the tabletop, he cocked his head at the sight of Thompson still in the archway
He didn’t want to move. It hurt to take a single step. He collapsed into the chair with Arthur’s bag sliding off his shoulder.
Arthur took his bag like Thompson was giving it to him. He pulled a single paper out at a time. With each new one, it made his volume and movement increase.
The last piece made Thompson sit up. To Arthur, it was a simple painting, but to Thompson, it was a color pencil recreation of the Mona Lisa. With the limits of the school’s supplies, it was outstanding.
A knock came from the door knocking Thompson from his awe. “Why don’t you put it on the fridge while I go get that,” he said as he ran his hand through Arthur’s hair.
Arthur scrambled to the floor as Thompson lurched to the door. He placed a magnet on each corner of his picture. The last one corresponded with the door slamming shut.
“You can’t be here, Ops! You know Finch’s rules!” Thompson protested.
“We both know you and Grady have bent the rules more than once.” He glided closer.
“Why are you here?” Thompson crossed his arms.
Ops’ gaze lowered and Thompson’s followed. Arthur was peeking around the arch’s corner. With them staring at him, he started to wiggle back.
Thompson bent down to pick him up, but the ache from the playground allowed Ops to swoop in before him. Bringing him to his side, Ops pulled on one of Arthur’s cheeks. “What a handsome boy. Grady must be proud.” He patted the same cheek. “It would be a shame if something happened to him.”
“Just set him down.” his eyes widen as his unballed fist. “We can talk about this. Alone.”
“Am glad I have your undivided attention.” He lifted Arthur over the top of the couch and onto a seat.
While waiting for Thompson to return from deeper inside the house, Arthur pulled out his late mother’s photo album from the end table. He immediately flipped to her trip to Europe where the pages were tattering at the binding. It didn’t matter how many times he looked through the pictures of the paintings and the museum's architecture, he never got tired of it.
The landline on the same end table rang. Arthur jumped up from where he was laying down. The album hit the ground with the second ring.
He picked up the phone. “Hello, Phillips residence,” he said through a beaming smile.
“Hi, Arthur,” the voice crooned.
“Daddy!” He nearly jumped to his feet. “When you coming home?”
“Soon, buddy, soon. But first, can I talk to Thompson?”
He started nodding before saying okay. He was about to yell for Thompson when an open hand appeared in front of him. He handed it over without looking up.
The hand took it. With his free hand, Ops tapped Arthur’s shoulder, making him move over. "Hello Grady, or is it Get, I don't keep up with Finch's rule."
Grady swerved his car. "What are you doing there, Ops?"
"Besides keeping an eye on your son," he said as he fished the album from under the couch and gave it back to Arthur, "I'm here to expedite Finch's orders: McCormick wants it done tonight."
“If I say no?”
Relaxing into the couch, he answered. “I wouldn’t suggest it, Grady. I usually wouldn’t hurt kids, but if you make me, I’ll do it. I’ve seen his drawings, but I think it would be hard to continue with broken fingers and snapped tendons.”
“I want to talk to Thompson, and I’ll do what you want.”
“That will be a little difficult. He’s very tied up and very unconscious right now.” He sashayed his arm across the back of the couch. “I am willing to give you a few minutes with your son.”
The sun dipped low on the horizon as Grady and Brody watched a couple dressed to the ritz drove away from their house. They waited for the two to turn the corner before making their way across the street. Hypervigilance couldn't begin to describe how they trudged across the drive which what felt light a spotlight glaring down on them.
Peering through his thick lens, Brody did his best to be the lookout while Grady, being the taller one, stretched over the gate to reach the lock. It was much more serene inside the fence, especially with the lovely sanctity of the tree cover. It made it immensely more comfortable to pick the lock on the back door.
The security system was weak. The couple had created their passwords in a similar fashion, making it easy for Grady to download the information requested. The only worthy adversary in the house was the wall safe.
Brody skimmed his hand across the safe's door. Every since Grady showed him his first lock safe, he's been as mesmerized by them as Arthur was in their mother's photos. After a moment with it, he took his glasses off, turning it into a blur, so he could get to work.
He started spinning the wheel, feeling and hearing the ticks. The first pin fell in. Then the next. He felt like the third one coming, but Grady's phone rang. His hands slid the wheel around with his heart in his ears. "Damn it," he said, shoving his palm into the safe's door.
Grady pulled his cell out. It was the first time he was made to see his own home phone number. "What do you want, Ops? We're trying to work."
"Just checking in. Arthur's starting to really miss you. Especially the closer it gets to bedtime," he answered, stroking Arthur's hair while he rested his on Ops' lap.
"We're working as fast as we can. No need to threaten us."
"Not threatening, just reminding you of your deadline. Sleep only comes for the dead. I would say you're running out of time."
"We'll be there." He flipped his phone shut. "Can you hasten this up, Brody?"
"Just turn your ringer off!" He snapped. "I know what's at stake." He started turning the wheel again.
A small sliver of sunlight radiated from behind them as they walked up the sidewalk to their house. They were terrified to see Ops sitting on their porch swing. The worst things crossed their minds.
"Don't look so scared you two," Ops said, walking up to them. "Arthur's all right. He's drawing inside, listening to that god-awful excuse for music you listen to. I had to escape, or I had to renege on our deal. I presume you have what I want?"
"Yes," Grady said, holding up a handful of orange envelopes. "The flash drive is in the top one."
"Good job," he said, taking the envelopes. "Hopefully, never see you again."
"Same," Grady said as Ops walked down the steps.
With Ops driving away, they rushed in. The sound of pattering feet was a welcomed relief. Having their names shout at them made them feel like home.
When Grady picked up Arthur, he never wanted to let go again, but there was someone else who needed him. He passed the half-sleeping Arthur to Brody, so he could go find Thompson. Brody couldn't help but follow.
The three of them looked in every room on their way through the house. The last place on the first floor was the master. The room was clear.
Grady didn't understand. He should have been there: Ops wouldn't want him too far away.
Brody could see it. He placed Arthur down on the bed. "Come on, Dad, let's keep searching."
"Yeah, lets-." He stopped when he leaned against the master bath's door, and it budged.
Recovering, Grady way eye to eye with a half duck tape cover face. Thompson was laying in the tub, tied up with a roll or two of duct tape. "You can call off the search party, Brody!" he yelled, digging his pocketknife out.
Their sticky situation took a great deal of time. The level of pain involved had the same magnitude, especially when it came to uncovered skin. However, the damage to Thompson's ego was seemingly more painful.
While letting Thompson regain his land legs without further embarrassment, Grady went to check on his sons. Both of them had cuddled up in his bed, sound asleep. After the day he had, he didn't feel like moving them, so he started his nightly routine right there.
He just got the blanket over when Thompson appeared in the doorway. "You have any aspirin?"
Thompson slinked back to the vanity. As he opened the bottle, he asked, "You'll be alright if I leave?"
"Shouldn't I be the one asking you that. I mean-" he sat down on the empty side of the bed- "you're the one that's been tired up in my bathroom for the last however long."
Thinking, Thompson threw back two pills. "I'm not the one who had my kids threaten today. No parent should have to goo-" he started before realizing he was talking to himself.
He looked at the three of them sleep. It reminded him of the nights when Grady crawled into his bed when they were kids at the orphanage. He was happy to pull the blanket over Grady, knowing it was his turn for that task.