Justin Sunder and Phoenix are master cat burglars and best friends until Dylan Panicosky enters their circle of hedonism and crime. Set in the blighted city of St. Louis in the ‘80s, it's a love triangle played out in an urban setting where all the players are fractured in their own way.
In his apartment, Justin stripped off his clothes and put on the green robe Phoenix stole for him. He watered the many plants throughout the house; at the indoor garden, he watered the aloe veras, ferns, yucca plants, and the assorted flowers. He poured the remaining water from the pitcher into a blue glass vase that held a single lily. He then walked over to his favorite chair, a leather and steel chaise lounge designed by Corbusier, and started reading. When Phoenix entered, he set the book aside. “Hi, honey.”
She walked to Justin and handed him a pretzel. “Here, I brought you something.”
Justin looked at the pretzel from J.B.’s and smiled. Phoenix sat on the floor next to him. “How was your date?”
“Not very good.”
“Don’t be, I’m not. She belongs to a world alien to me. How was your night?”
“Well, I met an interesting boy,” she said, smiling and went over to an end table by the sofa.
Phoenix grabbed a bag of weed out of a drawer and started rolling a joint. “Remember the guy we saw breaking into that apartment over by Bernard’s?”
“We might dance together sometime,” she said, sitting down on the sofa across from Justin.
“What does that mean?” Justin rose up out of his chair. “What the fuck, Phoenix. Just because I don’t want to do small businesses anymore, you’re gonna bring in some kid you don’t even know?” He sat next to Phoenix and lit her joint. “Now who’s manipulating who?”
“Oh, please, will you stop? What do you think I’m gonna do, run off with this guy? I’d be lost without you; you know that. It’s just a date. Here.” She handed him the joint and Justin took a long hit.
“Yeah?” he said while holding his breath. “Then go to a movie if it’s just a date.” Justin exhaled, blowing smoke up toward the ceiling fan.
“Are you jealous? That’s so cute! Now, knock it off.”
“I was looking at a house in the West End the other night, you interested?” Justin asked.
“If that’s the only way we’ll dance together, sure.”
“Phoenix, breaking into somebody’s house is a lot less dangerous then these businesses you want to keep doing. Remember when we stole those?” He pointed to the foreign posters framed and hanging on the wall. They came across the vintage advertisements while out browsing one day and decided to come back for them later. But Justin misread the alarm system as movement detectors. When they got in and started smoking the place with a fine mist so they could see the sensor’s light beams, he realized it was a temperature-sensitive system with a silent alarm, and the two quickly fled. To confuse the cops, Justin tossed a brick through a window. Two blocks away a squad car, without flashing lights or sirens, rushed passed them. A month later, they went back, properly prepared to counteract the system, and took the posters they wanted. Phoenix’s favorite was an Absinth advertisement from Spain with a lone green devil uncorking a bottle; Justin’s was an ad for a Parisian performance of Cyrano de Bergerac.
Phoenix looked again at the framed posters on the wall. “We came really close that time,” Phoenix said, laughing.
“Oh, come on, Justin! These houses you want to do are boring. What do they have, simple alarms or no alarm at all? Where’s the challenge in that? Why did you teach me all that stuff, if you don’t expect me to use it?”
“I didn’t want you to get caught.”
“I’m not taking the easy road, Justin. There’s an art to this and you know it, and until I get bored or busted I’m gonna keep pushing it. I don’t do this for the same reasons you do.”
“I know why you do it,” Justin interrupted and smiled, knowing Phoenix’s almost erotic response to dancing where she didn’t belong.
“I never should have told you that!” Phoenix quickly grabbed the joint from Justin in mock anger, accidentally dropping it on his lap. Both jumped up and scrambled for the burning joint before it burnt a hole in the leather.
Justin laughed, “I’m just curious to find out what other fetishes you have.”
Phoenix smiled back and continued their conversation. “Anyway, like I was saying—jerk—you have some sort of twisted Robin Hood logic, but I do it for the excitement. If it’s not exciting, why do it?”
“You need a reason,” Justin said, settling down again.
“I gave you my reason.”
“It’s got to be more than simple hedonism.”
“No, it doesn’t. That’s exactly what it should be. That’s why we’re on this planet, to have a good time and nothing else matters. Not architecture, governments, those posters, children—none of that shit. Nothing matters in this world but to have a good time while you’re here. If you’re not happy now, when do you expect to be?”
“There’s more to life than that. There’s principles, ideals, morals...”
“Morals! Whose morals? And what the hell is that anyway?”
“I’m not talking about the morals the hypocrites in religion preach—love your neighbor but only if he follows your religion. I’m not using the definition of morality that capitalists use—the ‘what’s right for General Motors is right for America’ bullshit. I’m talking about a different set of rules that governs people regardless of laws or customs or what we’ve been taught. Our morals may be different but they’re just as valid. Just because we’re thieves doesn’t mean we’re immoral. Breaking the law—for the right reason—is completely justifiable. Especially when it’s a non-violent crime, like stealing—and stealing from the wealthy even more so. I have no problem with taking their toys, no problem at all, because the extreme wealthy are immoral. It’s axiomatic. They eat their own. They literally kill their families, their business associates, their friends—for what? For what?”
“Money and power,” Phoenix answered.
“Exactly. Successful, wealthy businessmen design unsafe cars, knowing they’ll kill people; they sell their guns, wrapping themselves in the flag; they market deadly products with no regard for human life, only profit. They have no sense of right, only what’s legal. But, I don’t like taking from the small businessman. I’ve decided to draw the line there. I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt.”
“Small businessman, big businessman, it doesn’t matter,” Phoenix said. “They’d still pay their employees a dollar an hour if they could. They’d still hire children; they’d still demand a 60-hour workweek; they’d still have company stores. You give them too much credit, Justin.”
“I’m an optimistic sort of guy”
“Bordering on delusional.”
They both smiled at each other. Phoenix approached Justin and motioned him to slide off the couch and sit on the floor, which he did. Phoenix sat on the sofa with Justin between her legs and began to brush his long, dark hair.
“Delusional,” he said. “Okay, I’ll buy that.”
“And one more thing: how do you know this guy in the West End isn’t one of your small businessmen?”
“He’s not, trust me. Besides, even if he is, the only thing I really want in there is his Uzi.”