Toy Soldiers

Everybody gets a curveball or two thrown at them over the course of their life.  Others get what feels like an endless amount of obstacles.  Jack was one of those “others”.  He set out to simply be a decent person and for the most part had accomplished just that.  The rules of karma didn’t seem to apply to him though, and it seemed to stem from a certain type of person consistently standing in his way.


The people who came in and squashed Jack’s dreams were always in the position of power.  Family, teachers, police, hell even the guy at the Deli made life hard for Jack.  Everyone who got a chance of fraying his connection to success, seemed to take it.  He managed to stay afloat for a while and then he’d snap and his course in life would be jettisoned away from his true destiny.


One time, Jack almost got expelled from school.  He’d been accused of giving this blind kid the old heave-ho down three flights of stairs.  Security officer Bussy and Principal Allman ushered him into the office and demanded an explanation.


“Tell us why the hell you sent a blind kid flying down not one, not two, but three flights of stairs?”  Principal Allman said.


“If I did it, I’d tell you, but I have no idea what you guys are talking about.”


“Look Blunt, the kid is in bad shape.  Broken ribs, collar bone, and a severe concussion.  He’s lucky he didn’t die.  So act like Chunk in Goonies and tell us everything,” said Bussy.  


“You’re kidding, right?”


“About the Chunk bit?  I have to splash in a little humor to make it by,”  Bussy said.


“Apparently, he’s got the hots for your girl.  We’re guessing that’s the motive right there,” Principal Allman said.


“Can I call my lawyer?”


They ended up settling out of court.  Shortly after, Jack got dumped and simultaneously picked up a moniker:  Handicap Hacker.  Everyone knew the blind kid gave himself the old heave-ho.  If he couldn’t have Jack’s girl, he was going to make sure Jack couldn’t either.  From there things turned for Jack.  His parents started blaming him even more so than before.  Girls shunned him.  Guys sneered at him.  Teachers threw him out of class for simply moving the wrong way and where possible D’s and F’s.


It wasn’t until he went to community college that the pendulum started swinging the other way.  He started writing again and even got published in a few online journals.  Eventually, he met the girl that would become his wife and the mother of his child.  They didn’t go to school together, but met at the library and fell in love.  Only issue was, the mother-in-law, Victoria, ended up embodying everything Jack Blunt despised.  After they got married and had Mia, Victoria tried everything in her power to turn Elizabeth against them and rejected Mia for just looking slightly more like Jack.


The toy soldiers were of no use to Victoria and it seemed everything outside of her stocks and bonds were somehow not visible either.  Victoria was hoping for a boy and when Elizabeth came instead, she decided to put the toys in the attic.  Girls wouldn’t possibly play with toy soldiers.  They stayed there for forty years under the only window in the attic.  They were boxed and specially marked:  KEEP in black marker.  All of the soldiers were in mint condition, unopened and ready for battle or trade.  Cobra Commander, Lady Jane, Snake Eyes, Destro, Duke, Hawk..you name them, they were there.


When Victoria gave them to Jack, whiteout conditions were in effect.  Even though it was only noon, you couldn’t see the road in front of you.  After a foot had fallen, Victoria called in a frenzy asking to be saved from the snow.  Jack agreed to go over to plow and shovel the walk ways.  He brought Mia along to salt the walking paths so Victoria wouldn’t slip.  When they were done, they got into the truck and started pulling out.  Victoria flicked the porch light on and off and popped her head out the window.


“Go in the attic Mia,  There’s a surprise for you.”


“Yeah, sure thing grandma,” said Mia.


“Be careful coming down the stairs.  Don't need your mom suing me.”


“What’s in the box?”


“Just some old busted toys.”


“Why’d you keep them?”


Grandma didn’t answer though.  She just sulked back in front of CNN.


The toys remained boxed in the garage, poised for another forty year run untouched.  Jack was looking for decoration boxes in the garage.  It was only Thanksgiving, but Elizabeth loved to inject Christmas spirit in the air immediately after.  He stumbled upon the box that was marked:  KEEP and remembered the toy soldiers.  As he took them out of the box, he marveled at the condition and was flung back onto his couch in 1985 watching G.I. Joe’s on Saturday morning.    When Elizabeth got home from work, he didn’t say anything about what his Google search had uncovered.  She ate her dinner, showered and sat down to read when he looked over at her.


“We are going to be rich.”


“What are you talking about?”


“The toys.  The G.I. fucking Joe’s.”


“That’s a good one.  It’s Thanksgiving not April Fools.”


“No, those toys aren’t what Victoria thought.  They are in mint condition and worth a shitload of money.”


“How much are we talking here?”


“Guess.”


“Twenty K.”


“Freezing cold.”


“Are you kidding me?  Fifty?”


Jack didn’t think toys could be worth so much, but these being collector items in perfect condition set them into a six figure stratosphere.  Finally, Jack saw a chance.  A chance to not worry about someone over him.  Maybe he’d go back to school and finally write a novel.  Jack figured this was his big Christmas gift to make up for all the shit he’d endured.  After all the wrongs, here was the ultimate right.


Problem was, things turned in the other direction again for Jack.  Soon after, they linked up with a potential buyer who happened to be local. The guys’ name was Harold.  He decided to broadcast the deal over every social media site imaginable.  At first, only local news stations caught wind of the great toy haul.  Soon after one million Twitter followers, CNN and Good Morning America were running with it.  The whole ordeal was being spun as a Christmas rags to riches story.  That’s when Victoria exerted her muscle.  


“Where the hell is that worthless husband of yours?”


“Not home yet, Mom.  Why, what’s going on?”


“Do you live under a rock?  I want my money!.”


“What are you talking about?  That money is ours.  You gave those toys to Mia.”


“Just have your husband call me right away.”


When Jack got home, Elizabeth was in the driveway, arms folded.  Usually, if in trouble, he’d have received a text: call me now.  This was new, so Jack wasn’t sure how to handle it.


“What’s up, hon?”


“You need to call my mom right now.”


“You mean, I can’t eat first?”


Jack was smiling.  Elizabeth was not.   


“She wants the toys back or the money for the toys.  Just call her.”


Jack dialed up her landline, reluctantly, and leaned back on the couch, bracing himself for the call.  


“Hey, it’s Jack.  Elizabeth said you wanted me to call about the money or something.”


“Don’t ‘or something me’.  You know you have what’s mine.”


“Jeez, Victoria, I always figured you were the kind to play fair with toys.”


“Play.  I’ll show you how to play.”


“I don’t want to play, Victoria.  I want a better life for Mia and Elizabeth.”


“Well, I told Harold I want the toys after all and that I'd be willing to pay double.”  


“I’ll find another buyer.”


“I’ll get those toys.  One way or another, I’ll get them back.”


Thanksgiving came and went.  Grandma was invited, but politely declined and they didn’t hear anything from her until Christmas Eve.  It came in the form of a thunderous pounding on the front door as a light snow fell outside and the only light came from Christmas lights.


Jack stopped poking the fire to make sure he heard correctly.  The pounding escalated.


“Who is it?”


“Harold.  The toy guy”


“Who?”


“The toy guy, Harold.  Listen, give me the goddamn toys and we’ll call it a night.”


“Or?”


“Or?  Or, I take the stupid toy soldiers and before I go I put my foot in all your asses.”


“How much will it take for you to go away, forever?”


There was silence on the other end.  Jack turned on the front door camera and  a faux Santa appeared.  He was shorter than the real Santa.  Just over five feet and wide as the door he was staring through. Harold was chewing gum, with his hands on his hips.  He kept swinging his head to the side for a second like he’d found his answer and then back the other way like he’d lost it on the other side.  Then he looked into the camera.  


“I usually don’t do business with strangers.  But I know what is going on here.  I mean, who the hell doesn’t.  I also pride myself on being malleable.  So, I’m thinking of a fifty-fifty split.”


Jack paused for poise and swung the door open. Harold shrank backwards and almost fell, but Jack grabbed his Santa jacket and steadied him.  


“Come in, Harold.  I don’t see why we can’t settle this like gentlemen.”


Once he got inside and turned his back, Jack put his foot into the small of Harold’s back as hard as he could, sending him flying into the fireplace head first.  His false hair instantly took to the flames and set afire.  Harold shot upwards and began circling like a wild dog.  He finally extinguished the flames in the fish tank.  


“You asshole.  You could’ve killed me,” Harold said.


“Shut up you little prick.  You come here on Christmas Eve, you little shit, and threaten me and my family?”


“Look, I just want the toys man.  I got hired for the toys.”


“Yeah, well Harold, sorry pal but you aren’t getting them.”


“Shut up.  Take off the Santa getup and start walking home.  Keep it PG and stay out of the neighbors windows.”


Harold looked up in dismay.  He started shedding clothing.  By the time the whole charade was over, the snow started kicking up and without socks and underwear, Jack figured he could freeze.  The Blunts went to bed excited for Christmas morning.    Around two in the morning, a crash of glass set off the security system.  Jack zipped down the stairs and into the kitchen.  The rock was sitting in the sink, with a note rubber banded around it.


Dear Toy Thief,


You may have taken Harold out, but I have more weapons at my disposal and I’ll gladly use them.  This is far from over.  Have a splendid Christmas with the family.


Xoxo


Grandma Victoria


P.S. - Don’t spend all my money


After the rock incident, Jack made an executive decision.  First thing he considered was contacting the police.  It’s not that Jack disliked cops, he was just afraid  they’d make him hand over the toys.  In the cartoon, G.I. Joe soldiers always said ‘Knowing is half the battle’.  Jack knew what he had to do.  The obvious choice: hitman.  Not for Harold.  For Grandma.  Jack wasn’t sure how Elizabeth was going to take option B, and when he factored in the quickness with which he needed to execute, he decided she was better off not knowing.  After a short self-deliberation, Jack chose option B.  An old work buddy of Jack’s, Pitter, was the only logical choice.


“Pitter, you there?  Merry Christmas you old bastard.”


“Yeah, who’s this?”


“I know it’s been a few years, but it’s me, Jack.”


“Blunt?  Jack Blunt?”


“The one and only….well, only one you know.”


“Shit man, mighty thoughtful of you to reach out.  Only took you four years after my divorce and life fell apart.  What can I do you for?”


“I’m sorry for the tardiness, but I’m in a unique situation here.  I could use your muscle”


“Muscle?  You mean fat”


“Fat will do.”


“How much are we talking and what the hell do I have to do?”


“After dinner, I’ll meet you at Andy’s for a pint.”


Pitter arrived late.  The place was packed and deafening with the band pounding out tunes.  When Pitter came into Andy’s, he stumbled.


“Did you drive?” Jack asked.


“Ubered.” 


“Have a seat, and we can talk about what the deal is.”


“Just give me the address.”


“Don't screw this up Pitter.  It should be easy because she doesn’t have an alarm system and sleeps like the dead.”


“What do I get outta this?”


“If you pull this off, you won’t have to worry about...well, about anything.”


Pitter’s prize materialized in his mind.   The possibilities sobered him and when his eyes met Jacks, a Christmas twinkle came with them.  


Pitter wasn’t sure how he’d get into the house.  He took out his cheap infra-red night goggles.  They were knockoffs, but they got the job done.  He could make out Harold sprawled out on the couch, still in the bottom half of his Santa costume from his mall gig.  He noticed a camera on the corner of the house.  Blunt had failed to let him know about it, and it was throwing him off.  


Pitter sat back against the wall of a car in the driveway.  He was an old highschool quarterback, so it only took him five or six tries before he heard the camera crack.  He let the night settle back into its muffled quietness and went around to the window.  He slipped on leather gloves.


A small night light in Victoria’s room afforded him the opportunity to see her asleep and he went to make his move, but it didn’t work out like that.  Nothing ever works out the way you think or hope or want it to.  Grandma came out of the bathroom and when Pitter went to give her the old heave-ho downstairs, he stumbled on the runner.  They both stared at one another, and then Pitter lunged.


“Haaaaaaarold,” she screamed.


Pitter ran toward her and she backpedaled into the night of the staircase.  She didn’t fall like you are probably imagining.  She flailed.  Her head smacked against the stairs.  Pitter appeared over the faux Santa to make sure he wasn’t going to be a problem, but he didn’t even budge.  An odor of Jack Daniels and cheap strippers wafted into the air when Harold coughed.  


Pitter then leaned over grandma and watched as her eyes remained open staring back at him.  He realized this was a staring match he wouldn’t win and went to go into the kitchen.  Oddly enough, “Grandma Got Ran Over By a Reindeer” fell out of the radio.  Pitter chuckled at the uncanniness.  He was hoping the song, “It’s Beginning to Look A Lot Like Christmas,” would come on the radio next, but he decided better not wait to find out.  The real Santa might appear, and with that he left the kitchen light on, poured a glass of cool milk and set out the pack of cigarettes tucked in Harold’s Santa hat.


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