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The First Law Of Plumbing
About the Author: Josh Pachter was the 2020 winner of the Short Mystery Fiction Society's Golden Derringer Award for Lifetime Achievement. He also won the Derringer for Best Flash Story that year — for "The Two-Body Problem," which originally appeared in Mystery Magazine's October 2019 issue. In addition to writing, Josh also edits anthologies — most recently PARANOIA BLUES: CRIME FICTION INSPIRED BY THE SONGS OF PAUL SIMON — and translates fiction and nonfiction from Dutch and other languages.

“Knock it off,” Harry growls, “or I’ll punch your teeth down your stupid throat.”

“Knock what off?” sez I, offended like. “I ain’t doin’ nothing.”

“You’re chewing your fingernails,” Harry sez.


“So every time we pull a job, you get all antsy—and when you get antsy you chew your fingernails.”

“What’s it to you?” sez I. “They’re my fingernails.”

“It gets on my nerves, Alan. I told you ten thousand times: we’re on a job, I don’t need you creeping me out. Besides, you’re breaking the Third Law of Plumbing.”

“Plumbing has laws now?”

“Plumbing’s always had laws, nincompoop. Every plumber knows that.”

I should point out here that Harry and me are not plumbers. Yeah, we slap magnetic signs on the sides of the van when we pull a job—Acme Plumbers, like in one a them Roadrunner cartoons—but we are not plumbers.

What we are is robbers, and the van is what you call a disguise. The idea is we back into a mark’s driveway, right up to the garage door, and ring the bell. Three times out of four, somebody’s home, and we’re all whoops, sorry, sir or madam, I guess they give us the wrong address. But if nobody’s home, I can get in the house and disconnect the alarm in nothing flat—that’s my specialty, see—and we open the garage door and load the van with fencible goodies and are on our way in two shakes.

“So what’s the Third Law of Plumbing, then?” sez I.

“The Third Law of Plumbing,” Harry sez, “is: Don’t chew your fuckin’ fingernails.”

“You just made that up,” sez I.

“Nuh-uh. Ask any plumber.”

“So what’s the Second Law, then, Brainiac?”

Harry pulls over to the curb, throws the van into reverse, and backs into the driveway of the house we picked out for today’s robbery. “What day of the week is it?” he sez.

I look at him like he’s gone off his rocker. “It’s Friday,” I tell him. “We always pull our jobs on Fridays.”

He taps the brakes, and the van stops an inch shy of the garage door.

“The Second Law of Plumbing,” Harry sez, “is: Payday is always on Friday.”

Nobody answers when we ring the bell, and the dummies who own the house don’t even have one a them fake “Secured by ADT” signs, let alone an actual alarm system. The lock on the front door is a joke—and I mean a nothingburger, not funny like a clown—and we’re in the house before you can say Jackie Robinson.

“So what’s the First Law of Plumbing?” sez I, as I’m stuffing decent silverware into one a the heavy-duty trash bags I carry in my phony Acme Plumbing toolbox.

Harry’s busy unscrewing the seventy-inch smart TV from its wall mount, and he don’t even turn to look at me. “You don’t wanna know,” he says.

I consider arguing with him, but I can see he’s got his attention focused on the damn TV, and I got the whole upstairs to plunder, so I let it drop.

There are three bedrooms on the second floor. One’s a guest room, and there’s nothing in there but sheets and pillows. The second one’s a kid’s room, and I’m tempted to scoop Junior’s Nintendo Switch, but they only bring in a couple of bucks hot, so they’re not really worth the effort.

The third bedroom is the master, and that’s where I hit paydirt. The lady of the house has a jewelry box on her dresser, with the cutest little lock on it … and the key right there in the lock. Just for funsies, I ignore the key and smash the box against the wall. It springs open and farts out a pirate’s chest full of treasure, some of it costume junk but enough nice pieces to qualify the day as a success right there.

This story appears in our JUN 2023 Issue
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