R: Years ago, I had a thing going with a businessman on the other end of town. He got real close to me, he said all the right things…
"Was that you on the news?"
Robo turns, and he looks the businessman up and down. “Depends,” he says cautiously, and then he puts a hand to his face and lets out a little snicker. “Who’s askin’?”
The businessman sits down on the barstool next to him. Two seats down, on Robo’s other side, is his brother, Mobo. He’s a stout little fireplug of a man, quiet and tough.
"Oh, nobody much," says the businessman. He smoothes down his tailored suit, tugging at the hem of his jacket. "Just an interested customer."
Robo leans forward. His sunglasses catch the light, and they gleam. “Yeah?”
Mobo casts a sidelong glance.
"If you’re game," the businessman replies, crossing one leg over the other. "But from what I’ve heard, you boys are in very high demand."
Robo’s wearing dark glasses, but there’s a flicker behind them that means he’s been taking apart the man’s outfit, piece by piece. A bespoke suit, a dark silk tie, a watch made of gold with diamonds around the face. There are twenty-four of them, and they shine like stars.
"Well, of course we are," Robo says. "But I’m sure we could work something out."
Robo swaggers into the man’s office, with his brother close behind. “Piece of cake,” he says, twirling a diamond necklace around his finger. “Swapped it for a plain glass fake. Those rubes at Ages Jewelry won’t be able to tell ‘til after they’ve shipped it halfway across the world.”
The businessman takes it in his gloved hands (black leather, very classy) and peers at it through a loupe.
"Well?" Mobo says, folding his arms testily over his chest. “‘s good?"
Their client takes an envelope from his vest and hands it to Mobo. Quickly he leafs through the wad of bills inside, then nods to his brother. He checks out. We’re good.
"You two really live up to your reputation," the man murmurs. "Lightning fast, and very discreet." He tucks the loupe back into his vest pocket. "Would you boys care to make a little extra money?"
He keeps them busy. He commissions them to steal art from the Comet Museum, relics from traveling history exhibits, old films from the National Registry. And every time they come back, Robo’s carrying more and more.
"Found a little somethin’ else for ya," he laughs, dropping a diamond stickpin into their client’s hand. "Figured it’d go with that fancy watch you got."
The man holds it up to the light. It glimmers wonderfully. “Well, I think you’ve certainly got my taste down!” he gushes. “Let me throw a little extra in your paycheck.”
"No, no!" Robo says, waving it away. "That’s a little freebie, a little customer loyalty reward…"
Mobo’s hanging back as Robo talks. He’s looking at both of them. He’s watching as Robo shifts his weight back and forth, his hands moving restlessly. The man can tell that Mobo’s trying to figure his brother out. He’s never done this before, he’s thinking. Why’s he acting this way?
It’s a struggle not to laugh. How dense can a man be?
"So, you got any other little jobs for us?" Robo asks.
"No, not really," replies their client, and Robo’s shoulders fall in disappointment. "Well," he adds, and they immediately come back up again, Robo’s glasses gleaming. "Not any that I need two people for."
Mobo’s eyes snap immediately to his brother’s. This is going too far. This is wrong. The Bonanzas never split up on jobs this big if they can help it.
"Yeah?" Robo says, tilting his head a little. "What have you got in mind?"
It’s hilarious, really. Robo bursts into the man’s office, hauling a briefcase behind him like it’s the Olympic Torch. Mobo’s behind him, and the client knows that he’s had to listen to his little brother crow about how he did this one, all by himself. It’s perfect.
"Went off without a hitch!" Robo hollers, slamming the briefcase down on the man’s desk. "Mobo made a hell of a fuss about it, but I did it! And he saw with his own two eyes!” He turns and jabs a finger at his brother. “In your face, bro!"
Mobo rolls his eyes and looks away. “Whatever,” he groans. “You’ve done stuff on your own before. It ain’t news to me.”
Robo glares at him for a second, then turns back to his new favorite client. ”So what’s next?” he asks, leaning forward. “Diamonds? Pearls? Cash?”
The man grins a wide and sharklike grin. Robo’s fingers clutch the desk. And Mobo, standing there, watching his brother’s back arch tensely, still doesn’t understand what’s really going on.
It takes a while, but Mobo finally stops showing up. Whether it’s because he’s mad at his brother or he’s just tired of being suspicious, he finally gives up the ghost.
"I gotta admit, it’s a little weird without him here," Robo laughs nervously, tugging at the bottom of his shirt as he sits on his client’s desk. God, his hands are tense. He’s shaking. He’s practically rattling into pieces, and it’s fabulous to watch. "But, you know, I’m tough. I can take care of myself."
"Of course you can," the man laughs. "Besides, you can’t have him hovering around you all the time, can you? Who wants to live like that?"
"I know!” Robo says, nodding eagerly. “That’s what I keep saying! I mean, I like him, sure, he’s my brother, but—there are things he doesn’t get, you know what I’m saying?” His hands are moving again, fluttering around his head as he explains. “I got a life of my own, you know!”
"Naturally." The man sets his hand near Robo’s as he leans over the desk. "Besides, I’m sure there are things your brother doesn’t need to know about."
Robo looks up. Suddenly, he isn’t shaking anymore.
Things move quickly after that.
Robo is charming. Robo is so charming. He’s like a bird, always chattering, always darting about, always eager to take any shiny thing and bring it back to his nest. And soon the man’s office is overflowing with art, with jewels, with money, with money, with money.
If he’s a bird, he’s a windup one, and it doesn’t take much to make him sing. A soft word in his ear, a touch on his face that makes him turn. A shiny leather shoe pressing into his back. A grip that holds him down to the desk.
Without question, he is the finest toy this man has ever had.
Toys don’t last long in Badville. A couple weeks of this affair is all it takes for Robo to throw himself headfirst into the offices of a rival company. He comes back with the intel. They share a bottle of champagne. And then:
"It’s been fun, hasn’t it?" the man says.
Robo grins and nods. This is probably the happiest he’s ever been in his life, the poor sap. “Yeah, it has,” he says, curling an arm around the man’s shoulders. “So what’s next? You know, there’s gonna be another art show in town next week, and…”
"Nothing," says his client. "Nothing’s next."
Robo pauses. He tilts his head a little, the way he always does when he isn’t sure if he heard something correctly. “What?”
"You’re done!" says the man. He pulls away from Robo, puts down his champagne flute and opens his hands, ta-dah. "I have nothing left for you. You’re free to do as you wish."
"Well…" Robo squirms uncomfortably. "I mean, that’s great and all, but…you sure? I really…I really like workin’ for you."
The man nods.
Robo stares. His mind is groping for something, anything here. There must be something here.
"Well, I can still see you, right?" he finally says, trying to laugh. He gestures with the champagne. "You’re not gonna just cut this off. I mean, we’re both having fun, right? A lot of fun, you and me—"
"We did," the man says tersely, putting his feet up on his desk. "And now we’re finished."
"But…but I…you’re joking, right?" Robo says weakly. He sets the champagne down, because his hand’s shaking too hard to hold it steady. "Why? I mean, I did so much, I did a great job, didn’t I?"
"I got you so much. I got you all of this," Robo says, gesturing to the room, and by God, he could be a stage actor. His voice is strained with emotion. Just wonderful. "Didn’t I? I did everything you told me to! I did everything! I didn’t fuck up, did I? Right?”
Silence. Robo’s face darkens to a deep, deep red. His hands ball into fists. “Fucking say something!” he shouts. “Just tell me why you’re doing this, for fuck’s sake!”
Wham. The man’s foot comes up and slams Robo hard in the chest, sending him reeling to the floor. He draws in deep breaths, gasping, and he clutches his body as his ex-client walks leisurely around to the front of his desk.
"I don’t need to tell you a single thing," he says primly, laying an immaculate black shoe on top of Robo’s chest. "You will leave my office, and you will never come back, unless you want a visit from the police. Do you understand me?"
"Fuck you," Robo wheezes. He clutches weakly at the man’s pant leg, trying, pathetically, to pull him off. "Get the fuck off me."
"What’s wrong?" the man says smugly. "I thought you liked getting stepped on."
Robo falls quiet. He’s too busy trying to hold back sounds to talk back, and that’s no fun. So the man takes his shoe away, and Robo starts to slowly curl up and push himself to his feet.
"You fucking snake," he whispers. "You fucking backstabbing snake. I did so much for you."
"I never said you didn’t." The man turns away, pulling out his handkerchief. Kicking Robo in the chest made his champagne flute topple over, and now it’s starting to drip onto the carpet. "Anyway, don’t be so dramatic about it," he continues. "You want to get fucked so badly, go home and ask your brother. I’m sure he’ll be happy to oblige."
There’s a sound behind him. He turns in time to see a flash of steel as Robo buries his knife in the businessman’s shoulder. Before the pain reaches him he gropes under the desk to push a button, and within seconds a couple of burly guards are hauling Robo out the door.
"You’re dead, you piece of shit!" howls the thief. "We’re going to fucking kill you!”
They don’t, of course. He’s one of the richest men in town, practically untouchable, and some two-bit thieves are the least of his worries. But, loath as he is to admit it—for a few days afterwards, he stays up late, late, late at night, listening to the sounds outside his window. But every time he falls asleep, he wakes up the next morning alive and well.
Still, there is one thing. It’s not much, and most of the time, he doesn’t even think about it. But occasionally, when he moves his arm a particular way, a spike of pain flits across his back. It irritates him that any part of Robo should still cling to him, after all these years.