Chapter 1: Break and Enter
"I’m only saying that as far as good ideas go, this is just a step below disastrous.”
“No, but really,” Samantha continued, “Something tells me that nothing about this is going to go according to plan.”
“And what,” I asked, stopping for a moment to glare at her before I returned to fishing through my tool box, “would possibly make you think that?” My assistant met my glare and matched it with one of her own. The girl had moxie, I had to give her that. Quailing was not in her nature.
“Call it woman’s intuition,” she said. I barely bit back a sneer.
“Sam, you’re not the only woman on this job, and my gut is telling me that we are in for a successful mission,” I told her.
“Well,” she said, “your common sense might not be able to get a word in edgewise if it has to keep battling with your ego for the upper hand.”
“I’m hurt,” I muttered. “Pass me that wrench on the table.” She handed it to me. “Not that one, the bigger one,” I specified. She rolled her eyes, trudging back to the side table beside my bed (all three feet of distance) and mock throwing the tool at me.
“Careful,” I said, wincing. “Don’t underestimate what those things can do.” She looked like she wanted to scoff, but refrained. I think it must have taken a great deal of effort. I took the wrench from her, hefted it once to get a feel for it, and then dropped it into my backpack. It hit something with a clang. Probably something mildly breakable.
“And you expect me to believe that we are just going to waltz in there and take what we need without a hitch?” she asked me. The skepticism in her voice was far from subtle.
“First of all, we are not just ‘waltzing in;’ that’s what the wrench is for.” At her horrified look, I amended, “I’m joking. The goal is to not get caught; I have a lock picking set.” Her stance became a little more relaxed, and I continued, “secondly, I don’t expect them to simply let us take what we need. We’re taking back something that should have already been mine.” I paused, calming my thoughts. Anger would only lead to foolish decisions on my part, and I could not afford that. Both literally and figuratively, in fact. Bail bonds are really terribly pricey. I mean, seriously, are people supposed to be able to afford those things? Don’t they know that being a college student is an expensive occupation? “Besides, I never said it would be easy; their security system is top notch. We’re talking a step below museum level security. So it’s not like we’re getting away with this without a challenge.” This did not assure her the way I had hoped it might.
“Great. Now I feel much better, thank you.”
“I’m trying to inspire a daring sense of adventure here.”
“You need to take a speech class,” she informed me unhelpfully. I sighed.
“Why do I keep you around?” I asked her. The question was meant to be rhetoric, but that didn’t stop her from answering.
“Must be my good looks and charming demeanor.”
I despaired of ever getting a non-sarcastic response out of her.
“It must be,” I said, hefting the rather heavy back pack over my shoulder and standing up. My knees popped. “Shall we go?”
“Will it make any difference if I say no?”
“Not the slightest,” I assured her. She pushed off from her position of leaning against my wall, which was certainly not painted lime green despite my apartment building’s regulations. (Alright, I confess: I’m a rebel. What the landlady didn’t know wouldn’t hurt her.)
“Fine,” she muttered. “But if we get caught, remember that I’m just your hostage, a mere victim of circumstance in the whole stupid situation.” I threw a pair of gloves at her, and she caught them with a deft ease that most people would not credit her with having.
“If you can get through the dumb blonde act without giggling,” I said, “then I’ll speak for you in court. Now let’s go.” I grabbed a set of keys from a desk drawer and turned off the light.
“We’ve got a store to rob.”
“Because two people wandering around town dressed from head to toe in black isn’t suspicious at all,” Sam muttered as we struck out into the cool autumn air. I almost groaned. This was the fifth comment in as many minutes. Normally, my partner was better at taking things in stride and not complaining too heavily about them. Maybe it was just the chill, but her voice seemed to carry a little more bitterness than I was accustomed to, and that was actually saying something. Samantha’s sarcasm frequently bordered on biting during our little tete-a-tetes. “Seriously, Nicky, please tell me again that we are not just robbing a jewelry store on a mad whim of yours.” I almost rolled my eyes, but something about the action didn’t quite strike me as professional.
“It’s not just a jewelry store, Sam,” I told her, pulling on my black leather gloves. Cliché? Yes. But no less classy. Plus, why risk the fingerprints?
“Store full of shiny bits and bobs that people buy for more money than I make in a year? Sounds like a jewelry store to me,” she retorted. Her shoulders hunched slightly and I could feel her eyes on me even through the dark. I knew the expression they would hold, despite the fact that I could not actually see them; cheeky to the point of saucy, and deceptively perceptive. She was not all blonde hair and naïvely wide, sparkling blue eyes. Then again, if she were, we probably would not have teamed up in the first place. She was remarkably good at playing the part of idiotic blonde, but her blue eyes had a peculiar laser like quality that seemed to cut through your soul—and any holes in a plan. As a strategist, I have never known anyone better. College forms odd bonds between people.
“Not quite,” I told her. “It’s hardly just a jewelry store. Aboveboard, they are well known as the city’s best antique repairs shop. They are better known in the criminal underworld for selling rare, stolen items on the black market.” Her mouth formed an ‘o’ of understanding.
“So there is yet method in your madness,” she said, gathering her hair up into a ponytail and coiled it into a thick knot on top of her head, hiding that under a black beanie hat. “I did hope that you weren’t walking into this with no direct purpose in mind.”
“Well, your hope was not in vain,” I said.
“You found it, then?”
“Yep. Took an age to track it.”
“So why not just buy it if you want it that much?” Now I did roll my eyes. I couldn’t help it. Sam was far from stupid, it was true, but that doesn’t mean that she didn’t have her moments.
“Do you know how much I make in a year?” I asked her.
“I don’t think we’ve ever discussed the specifics when it comes to our legit salaries, no.”
“Well, mine isn’t large enough to pay for this piece in installments,” I informed her. “Plus, I don’t have a big enough reputation with the criminal underworld yet to get more than a few words in before they call security on me.”
“By security, do you actually mean members of the mob?” She didn’t sound excited by the prospect.
“It’s a possibility, certainly. Honestly, I don’t know all the details; you can’t find that stuff just by Googling it, you know.” She snorted. Not elegant, but it got her disdain across loud and clear.
“You’re never honest,” she said. We turned a street corner. I think she resented me for making her walk the entire distance, but the getaway car that I planned on high jacking was less than a block away and I had to make sure that it was ready… by which I mean I needed to know that the key in my possession would actually fit in the door. Sometimes it pays to work as a locksmith. Well, a locksmith’s assistant, anyway.
There, in the flickering light of a broken streetlamp, sat a small black car with faded lettering on the license plate and darkened windows which were originally to protect the driver against the summer sun, I’m sure, but would serve my purpose equally well. The owner, I knew, worked the nightshift at the local 24 hour drugstore. Did I feel bad for planning to steal it? Maybe a little, (I do actually have morals, contrary to popular belief, I just rarely use them) but I knew that the owner wasn’t just selling ibuprofen behind the counter. Plus, the man acted like a jerk to me while I tried to fix his vehicle a few weeks ago when I was still in the early stages of formulating my plan. I checked the key; a perfect fit, which also meant that the car would start without a hitch, and we could make a successful quick getaway (I refused to call it ‘escaping’). I pulled a can of spray paint out of my backpack and made short work of painting over the license plate. I knew for a fact that the owner’s shift didn’t end until six in the a.m., by which time we would have long since parked the car just outside of the city limits and hitched a ride back to our respective rooms.
“We’re all set here,” I informed my colleague. “What were you saying about nothing going according to plan?”
“You had better knock on wood after making a comment like that,” said Samantha. “I’m not even superstitious, and I know better than to go saying something like ‘what could possibly go wrong?’ You just don’t do that in these situations, Nicky.”
“Stop calling me Nicky,” I muttered irritably. “It’s not professional. It doesn’t even sound good.”
“Really? I think it suits you,” she said. “‘Nicola’ makes you sound like the daughter of a Russian dignitary.” I hummed softly, crossing an empty street. The stop light turned red when we were halfway through the intersection, which in the daylight could have lead to a disaster. At three in the morning however, the light at the crosswalk was more of a suggestion rather than a rule designed to keep you alive.
“I think that’s about what my parents were going for,” I admitted. “Turn left.”
I hated the video cameras that the city felt the need to place on every stoplight. Not only were they inconvenient during a job like this, but they put me on edge even when I knew I was doing something completely legal. Around a back alley we went, past the garbage cans and the massive green dumpster, past the graffiti covered back door that I knew led to the restaurant that directly faced our destination and back onto a shadowed street.
“So what’s the plan, Stan?” my colleague asked me. I smiled. This was always the best part of a job, for me. The beginning, when anything could happen for better or worse, and when I knew I treaded that fine line between upstanding civilian and wanted criminal. I’d never be able to describe why I found it so exciting; it’s a little like Christmas morning, I guess. You spend all that time waiting, and then suddenly the waiting is over, but the built-up anticipation has finally reached its climax as you open the first present. I was high on adrenalin. I could scale walls and leap over mountains. Every sense was sharpened like a knifepoint, and I wondered if this was how it felt to be immortal.
“Now we break,” I said, fishing through the backpack to pull out a set of lock picks. “And enter.” I strode across the street under a broken street lamp. The next few minutes were spent in a concentration that went beyond the simple adjective ‘intense.’ Samantha’s nervous whispered comments became white noise, humming in the background as I focused. Lock-picking is an art, or so I’ve always believed, and one that I have honed for many years. Four year old Mozart had his piano sonata, Shirley Temple had her acting, but I had lock picking. When I was five years old and foolish, curious as to what my parents kept in the locked box under their bed, I found one of my mother’s bobby pins (yes, they do work, actually, though usually only on older locks,) and proceeded to shape it and crimp it until I heard the click alerting me that I was in fact successful in my mission. What lay inside didn’t matter to me when I finally opened the lid and saw piles and piles of letters stuffed within. I had opened that box with very little effort on my part; I had achieved my goal. To a five year old, it’s a very big deal, managing something on your own. After that, I started noticing locks everywhere and wondering how best to beat them. It began as a game. It grew into an obsession, and then into a tool.
A click, a snick, and then we were in. All I had to do was turn the handle.
“I always think it’s going to be harder than that,” Samantha murmurs, and I am once more reminded of the real world and the task at hand. I wrenched the handle open and drew a dart gun, only rather than a point on the end of each bullet, I had a magnet. I knew exactly how the alarm system was set up, and that one well placed shot would force the main system to fizz out, which would give Sam enough time to disable the three backup systems.
Allow me to mention that the door was made of glass, and that breaking said glass and entering would not be a particularly difficult task by any means. However, there were sensors built into the door wired straight to the police station and set to go off at any change in pressure. Which meant that taking the phrase ‘breaking and entering’ literally was out of the question. A few moments of digging through my pack yielded a tool that I had once seen an artist friend of mine use to drill a hole through one of his glass works. If I was correct, and the sensors were wired to the edges of the glass and set to go off only if they sensed the reverberations of the glass shattering, then they probably wouldn’t pick up on gentle drill (if any drill can be gentle) scraping away at the glass in the middle of the door, nowhere near the frame. I drilled, then aimed and fired. For a long moment, both my partner in crime and I sat, listening for police sirens. None came.
So far, so good. However, I knew for a fact, having tested the issue the previous day (by walking in just after they had closed, but before they had locked up and proceeding to play the role of apologetically innocent customer), that their main alarm, the one that wasn’t wired to contact authorities should it go off, was loud enough to wake up an exceptionally heavy sleeper on the other side of town. Silencing that puppy would take a little more than a dart designed to short out an electrical system. But regardless, in order to cut those wires, I needed to open the door and hope to heaven on high that the door would at least muffle the alarm in question.
But when I nudged the door open, every nerve on fire and one finger in my ear to block the wave of sound that I expected to flood the night, nothing happened. The night remained silent.
And let me tell you, there is nothing so unpleasant as expecting to hear an alarm only to realize that your plans have been shot and you have suddenly been thrown unceremoniously into the unknown.
“Should we have anticipated guard dogs instead?” asked Sam in a hushed tone. Her voice seemed to echo through the oppressive silence. No Dobermans shot out of the gloom either though.
“Something’s wrong,” I muttered. I pulled a flashlight from my pocket and flicked it on. It filled the room, illuminating the counters and stands covered in glass and filled with nothing but empty air. This was unsurprising. Of course the owners would lock up their merchandise at night. Nothing immediately jumped out at me to make me worry. Until, that is, a clatter like the sound of a whale belly flopping into a pottery shop made both of us jump out of our skins. The flashlight’s beam found the shop counter. Nobody easily visible there. I cautiously stepped forward to get a better look. Peering around the counter with a weapon at the ready, I found the source of the noise.
And there, behind the counter, was the face of a man I had hoped dearly never to see again.
“Well,” he said, wincing at the light. “This is awkward.”