It starts with one of those little fake silver collector's spoons from Phoenix.
It starts with Danny unpacking his bag, finally home, the rush of a big win still singing in his veins. There's always been a difference between him and guys like Bank and Benedict. It isn't exactly a subtle one.
Tess is drinking a glass of red wine, looking out their bedroom window, her mouth twisted down again. She'd got paint splashed across her knuckles, her nails clipped short, and her hair pulled back. He doesn't expect her to understand everything, not anymore, but he doesn't get why she doesn't understand that, at least.
Danny smirks, anyway, because he's got friends that do. He isn't sentimental by nature. You can't play a game like it doesn't matter if you lose if you try to keep things close.
He sticks the spoon up on the top shelf on his side of the closet, lines up his shoes, and hangs his jacket. He keeps smiling until he takes the glass out of Tess's hand and she won't meet his eyes. He keeps smiling after that, too, it's just for a different reason.
Danny leaves the house before nine the next morning. The sun is shining big and bright in the sky. There are a couple of kids playing in the yard across the street, their nanny attached to her cell phone. Birds are singing, dogs are barking, and Tess is twisting her mouth the way she does when she's trying not to ask where he's going.
He buys Tess flowers again, the yellow ones she likes because they complement the paint in the kitchen. He buys three red apples and two green, a head of lettuce, a random pint of Ben & Jerry's, two steaks, and a padded envelope.
The cashier looks like she's on the rough end of sixty, with white hair and fingers starting to permanently curl. Her front teeth are yellowed from years of nicotine, and her red lipstick is smeared. She gives him his total in a rough monotone.
Danny smiles at her, pays in cash and uses small bills. He tugs on the sleeves of his jacket while she's bagging his groceries. He pockets a Coke-themed deck of playing cards with his left hand, while she's counting change back into his right.
"Have a nice day, Gladys," Danny says, with a wink. She doesn't look impressed.
He doesn't put a return address on the envelope when he addresses it using block-style Sharpied letters; it's not like Rusty won't know who it's from.
Danny walks around the neighborhood twice a day. He thinks about getting a dog, to make it look less conspicuous, and he's mentally debating breeds—something small and fluffy that Tess would like, the kind of dog prissy enough to fit in with the Johnsons and the Jaegers; or something bigger, like the bastard love child of a boxer and lab that Rusty had when they were younger—before he remembers that he isn't going to need a cover story.
The Johanssons decide to upgrade their entertainment system, and bring in six new flat screens. They leave the boxes on the curb, and Sarah tells him, laughing, with her fingers on his elbow at a birthday party for his next door neighbor, that the security system sign is deterrent enough for crime. He grins, and agrees, and watches Tess roll her eyes over Sarah's shoulder.
Alexia Javier lives two doors down ad across the street. She walks her dog in high heels, lives alone, wears a strand of pearls she'd gotten from her grandfather for her sweet sixteen all day every day, and manages the oldest bank downtown. Danny could set his watch by the time she goes to work and comes home.
Some people deserve to be stolen from, really.
Tess taps her fingers on his shoulder, and sighs like she's disappointed in him again.
The package comes about a week later, with his name and address written in green crayon. There's a stuffed polar bear inside, soft, and white, and wearing a red scarf.
Danny doesn't laugh—as a rule—but his mouth twitches, and his breath hitches dangerously in that direction.
He grabs his keys. He addresses the envelope with glittery stickers, and drops a matching red scarf in the mail just before the post office closes.
Danny imagines Rusty laughing, head thrown back, fingers curled in cashmere. That's not how Rusty laughs, of course, and he wouldn't give Danny the satisfaction even if it was. It's a con laugh, one Rusty uses when he talking someone into doing something for him. That laugh, it's part of the game. It's part of a different game.
Danny counts the number of steps from the front door to the teller counter of the bank at the front of the grocery store. He checks out the ventilation system, the alarms, and the cameras.
He buys milk, eggs, angel hair pasta, and salmon, without looking at the list shoved in his pocket.
When he left, Tess was humming Sinatra, and Danny taps out the rhythm of it absently, fingertips dry against the conveyer belt. He makes note of how much money they keep in the till. Watches three different cashiers walk in the front door for the next shift. He imagines Rusty laughing, and he grins.
Danny bought tickets to Montreal online on a whim, stock prices pulled up in one window and Priceline in another. He booked a room at the Hotel Le St-James in his real name, smiling down the line because Julie took his reservation, and she was one of those kids that reminded him what it was like to start. Last time they'd been in town, she shuffled Rusty out of two hundred bucks, and wouldn't go upstairs with him at the end of the night. Both events were rare enough to stick in Danny's memory, along with smirking, afterwards, shoulder to shoulder with Rusty in the elevator, a bottle of stolen wine in hand.
He prints out the flight information, erases his browser history just because, and boots down. It's a slow and painful process, sometimes. He pushes with the heel of his hand against the desk and swivels his chair left, then right, then left. The sunlight coming in from the window makes his shoes shine.
He watches dust motes float around, listens to the kids across the street play with their high-pitched laughter, listens to the computer hum as it powers down, and Tess splashing water as she cleans brushes. Every time he peeks in, she's got her eyebrows pulled together tight, her mouth drawn, like she'd got a calculus problem in front of her instead of another blank canvas. The ceiling is white, and the walls have been at least three different shades of beige since they moved in.
They don't go to Montreal, because Tess already made plans.
They stay home and play board games with their neighbors. Danny's armed explosives and disarmed alarm systems since he was seventeen. He plays Operation with a glass of scotch in the other hand, closing his eyes before he makes each grab. Tess serves mini desserts as a distraction from trying to explain why it's not fair.
The next day, he gets a pair of white gloves from Rusty.
There are Mickey Mouse ears drawn on the O in his name on the envelope. He smiles, already planning, clutching the gloves in his fist.
He smoothes them out before he puts them on the top shelf of the closet, though, because he doesn't like wrinkles. Tess looks at him funny when he steps out, his thumb hooked in his pocket, wearing a Yale pin, a jacket with frayed sleeves, Clark Kent glasses, and a beaten-up brown leather messenger bag over his shoulder.
She raises her eyebrows, and twists her mouth again, and doesn't ask.
He goes to three different stores, walking down the aisles slowly, touching random things with the tips of his fingers. He picks up snow globes and shakes them, winds up music boxes, adjusts the glasses he's wearing and sighs.
In the fourth store—a semi-rundown vintage place called The Hour Glass that Rusty would love without shame, that smelled like old people and incense, and the racks were full of clothes from decades past, the shelves cluttered and dusty—Danny finds what he's looking for. It isn't for sale, but it's not like they were using it anyway.
Danny absently stuffs the feather duster inside the messenger bag, trying on a fedora in the mirror above the stand of seventies sunglasses with their round lenses. He buys a pair of the sunglasses in yellow for a buck fifty, because they'd go with the hippie wig Rusty loves.
They've got mood rings up by the register, and he tries on one with little inset hearts while the cashier finishes reading an article in a TV Guide from the eighties before she checks him out. The ring goes from black to brown to red to orange, as he twists it on his finger.
He ships the feather duster in a box from the adult toy store next door, duct taped closed. He spells Rusty's name backwards.
When he gets home, he tosses the sunglasses in a shoebox with his Clark Kent glasses, a pair of aviator shades and reading glasses he only kind of needs.
Danny walks around the neighborhood after a cup of black coffee. The weather's starting to turn, the leaves fading to yellow and orange and red, the wind making him shiver. He waves to the old man on the corner, who sits on the porch in his fuzzy robe and slippers every morning to read the paper, coffee cup steaming beside him. He steps over the cracks in the sidewalk, hands shoved down in his pockets and shoulders hunched against the cold.
Tess moves on from fruit bowls to the trees outside her workroom window.
Rusty sends him a candle stick holder, and the O in his name is wearing a blue ballpoint hat this time.
Everything is digital now, and Danny spends three hours going from store to store in order to find an old-fashioned alarm clock, the kind with the bells on top. He writes Rusty's name and address, and then puts a handlebar moustache underneath.
Danny walks around the neighborhood, and waves to the hold man on the corner, and steps over the cracks in the sidewalk.
Rusty sends him a cookbook, the vowels of his name turned into turkeys, and Danny burns dinner, because he's too busy flipping through the dessert pages to pay attention to what's on the stove.
He steals a crab cake from a black tie birthday party he crashes, and spends an obscene amount of money to have to have it shipped over night, wrapped inside white cloth napkins, the R of Rusty's name laid back and fishing.
Tess moves on from the trees to flower arrangements, her mouth always pulled tight. She makes coffee in the mornings, and sells a painting to a stranger. Danny buys her flowers again—the ones she likes—and brings home takeout so dinner's edible. She wears her hair down, washes all the paint off her hands, and relaxes more than she has in weeks. She touches her fingers to the nose of the polar bear in the closet before she comes to bed.
Rusty sends him a bottle of Bordeaux. Danny's smiling at the package, tapping the side of his thumb against the box and already planning his next move, when Tess leaves. His name is written inside of grapes, and Tess meets his eyes for the first time in a week.
Danny doesn't bother to be surprised. Rusty always said retirement wasn't really in the cards for either of them.
He goes to Barnes & Noble, rips a picture of a Mercury Attaching His Wings out of book on French sculpture, and sends it to Rusty addressed with calligraphy he's pretty sure Rusty taught him for a con once.
Danny goes home, cleans out the fridge, walks around the neighborhood, and packs a bag. When the time comes, he locks the door and doesn't look back. Looking back has never really been his style.
The plane is crowded. Danny taps his fingers on the armrest to the rhythm of Sinatra. He tugs the sleeves of his jacket down, and breathes in recycled air steadily. The kid in the seat behind him is listening to her headphones with the volume so high that Danny can hear the tinny pop she's playing. Two rows ahead of him there's a couple arguing. To the left, the chief international relations officer for the newest rival to the Bellagio is sweating pretty heavily.
"How was Connecticut?" Rusty asks, putting a baseball hat on Danny's head and sitting down in the seat beside him. He makes it look easy. He relaxes into the seat like it's comfortable. Danny relaxes too, a habit that had been ingrained years ago.
"Don't you hate it when people on planes suddenly want to be your best friend?" Danny returns, grinning against his will and better judgment. Once in a while, he can't help but give Rusty a victory. He pulls the hat on more firmly, without looking at whatever monstrosity he's ended up wearing.
"Lucky for you," Rusty says, popping watermelon Bubble Yum and tapping his fingers against the outside of Danny's wrist, "I'm not people."
Danny laughs, and slips a Hershey bar into Rusty's pocket when the flight attendant walks by. Rusty smirks, the corner of his mouth that Danny can see turned upwards. That's how it really started, of course, when they were kids, sunburned and sticky and sick on too much sugar and too many hours awake, laughing together under the boardwalk, planning big. They were always going to end up right here.
"I thought I was going to have to send you a written invitation," Danny says, slowly, knocking his knuckles against Rusty's thigh. He breathes, and it feels like it's for the first time in months.