The mail truck pulled up in front of the sprawling yellow house, decrepit and decaying, and the driver rechecked the address on the package; the property appeared to be abandoned, but the rusted numbers loosely hanging to the left of the front door matched what was scrawled in chicken scratch on the box. The gate was permanently jammed open, and the driver cleared overgrown brush away with his free hand as he made his way down the short path to the splintered porch. He left the package on the steps and knocked on the door, then hurried back to the truck and sped off to his next stop.
Waiting until the mail truck was out of sight, Boy Howdy emerged from the alley that ran parallel to the house. Nobody had answered the knock on the door, and he was confident the sagging, yawning house was unoccupied, the package probably a misdelivery; this was one of the easiest opportunities he’d come across in a long time. He looked up and down the street, saw no potential witnesses who could incriminate him, and quickly walked down the crumbling stone path to the porch, picked up the box, and tore it open.
Protected by some loose sheets of bubble wrap, a new black and white regulation soccer ball greeted him. Boy Howdy cursed, hoping for something of greater resale value, but it was better than nothing. He took the ball out, tossed the empty box into the yard, and walked through the open gate and back into the alley.
He put the ball on the ground and dribbled it for a few seconds, trying to remember the last time he played soccer, probably sometime in middle school. The ball felt softer than he recalled, almost puffy, and it didn’t roll straight, instead wobbling left and right as if losing its footing on a balance beam. An engine backfired and he turned to see a red pickup pass on the street, a lanky bald man wearing thick glasses riding in the flatbed; they made brief eye contact and Boy Howdy considered waving them down to see if they’d want to trade something for the ball. Nah—he’d try selling it in front of Chew’s, maybe make enough bucks for a frosty beer from their cooler. It was a hot day.
The tiny battery-operated radio was blasting REO Speedwagon from its crackly speakers, resting on an overturned cardboard box that was doubling as a makeshift table. Dennis leaned back in his folding chair and tapped out the rhythm to “I Don’t Want To Lose You” on his thigh, took a final drag off his Parliament, and tossed it on the floor. He heard sounds on the steps leading to the basement, and he looked over to see Charlene emerge, covered in dust and carrying something in her left arm.
“Nothing down there worth anything,” she said, brushing cobwebs off her shirt. “I did find this old soccer ball though. Isn’t that funny? Maybe we can kick it around while we wait.”
“What?” said Dennis.
Charlene marched over to the radio and switched it off.
“What did I tell you about playing that radio too loud?” she said. “How are you supposed to hear the front door?”
Dennis rolled his eyes and lit another cigarette, slowly rocking the folding chair on its back two legs.
“Don’t forget why we’re here,” said Charlene. “We need that package. We need what’s in that ball. As soon as it comes, we need to get out of town, fast.”
“You worry too much,” said Dennis. “If you’re so tied up about it, why don’t you check the porch?”
“Fine. I will. Don’t turn that radio back on.”
She left him in the back room and walked down the wide hallway that led to the foyer. The house must have been beautiful once, with its ornate engravings around the doorways and high, vaulted ceilings. Now you couldn’t give the property away if you wanted to, the neighborhood having long since gone to seed decades ago. The only real use for the place anymore was as a convenient address, and the people who had hired her and Dennis to receive the package had decided it was nondescript enough to avoid suspicion.
Charlene paused as she approached the front door. The dusty stained glass that decorated the sides of the door frame let in enough light to allow her to see the vague outline of a figure standing on the porch, probably the mailman, and she brushed more dirt off her shoulders as she anticipated the knock.