“So.” He was a fat man who oozed over the café chairs, the buttons strained on his shirt, his heavily tinted sunglasses screamed that they were a designer brand and on each finger was a jewel encrusted, oversized gold ring that would occasionally scrape against the tall glass of his latte macchiato. “Was there anything unusual about the delivery?”
Unusual? Damn right there was.
Firstly, the window in which the request was to be carried out, that was unusual. Not unique though, so maybe I’m justified in it not triggering alarm bells.
Maybe, after years of not asking questions, not wanting to, not needing to, that it had become ingrained into me.
There’s a code, of sorts, of honour among thieves…
But aside from the timeframe, it was a stock job: Steal this, from here, payment will be x… and oh, (almost a casual aside) it needs to be done on this night.
It wasn’t a rush job.
It wasn’t a special job.
It didn’t require substantial extra prep.
In fact, it fit perfectly within my modus operandi, and my cover – antique jewellery, of which I, in my day job, create replicas of.
And yes, I think I’m clever. The payments I receive are for ‘custom orders’ and ‘special sales’, for all intents and purposes, above board. I even pay tax.
And if all goes smoothly, the replica goes in, the original goes out and if they ever figure it out, the evidence trail is long cold.
It doesn’t always work that way.
I don’t actually need to do this anymore – I don’t need the money, now I do it just for fun.
Well, it’s always been for fun…
This one though…
Macquarie, museum of Ancient Cultures, a ring, Akkadian, nondescript, item no. mu3793. Gold, brushed, small blemish on the side. Easy enough to copy.
The museum itself, well, all the serious security is protecting the interests of the big businesses that invested. That’s up the other end, the big glass towers, the labs, the hardware. This end, an underpaid, overweight security guy, some metal gates and some locked doors.
Generally, the trick is to use an oblique approach – access the ceiling from a different room. For some reason, they don’t tend to protect from above. The other measures, the sensors, were operated from a control panel, the security code long worn into the keys, the code unchanged since the last job I’d done there. Three years ago.
I had my tool kit, dark material, sitting on top of an adjacent case, microfiber gloves on, chisel in hand, easing gently into the glass, when I heard a soft tapping. I stopped, waited, and then heard it again.
It wasn’t my imagination.
It was in the museum. It was a tap on glass, muffled. Rhythmic. Tap tap tap.
I grabbed my torch, moved through the glass cabinets.
Tap tap tap.
“Is someone there?” Came a soft voice. A girl’s voice. There shouldn’t have been anyone in here.
I had a small torch and a chisel in my hands, hardly comforting. The voice sounded young, so it was probably okay, but…
What was a child doing in here?
“Please, please help me.” The voice, louder now, clearer, definitely a child’s voice, definitely a girl.
I followed the sound of her voice through the darkened displays.
There, beside a low mummy’s sarcophagus, in a large glass display case was a girl, hands pressed against the glass, dried tear tracks running down her cheeks.
I don’t know how old she would have been, primary school age, at a guess, the age that I always assumed Alice was.
She had blonde hair, a blue dress thing and those buckled shoes. Lit by ambient light.
“Please,” she said, as I stopped, “please let me out.”
The little girl collapsed down, banging her head against the back wall. There wasn’t much room in there. She began crying again.
“I… It’s okay, it’s okay.” I said, moving to the display. “I’ll get you out of there.” It was as close to comforting as I could think of.
The child smiled.
I began running my hands over the casing, looking for the opening, looking for the lock.
“There’s no opening,” said the little girl, “you’ll need to break it.”
I kept checking, before reaching the same conclusion. There was no opening. It had been made all as one piece. Odd.
I still had the chisel in my hand. “Stand back little one.” I placed the chisel hard up against the glass, the little girl moved away, as far as she could, which wasn’t very far, and smiled. The glass was thicker than normal, a lot thicker. I slipped off my boot to use as a sort of mallet.
I wound up, ready, the cold seeping in through my sock.
I must have looked like an idiot, standing there with a shoe in one hand, a chisel in another, poised to strike.
“What are you waiting for?” Said the girl, angry. She pressed her face against the glass, flattening her nose. “Do it. Do it now!”
There’s something not right here, I thought.
“Please, please help me, you have to let me out.”
If there was no opening, how did she get in there? If it’s sealed, how is she breathing?
“I’m having trouble breathing…”
How would someone break in here, and seal her in without triggering any alarms? How would they do it, even with the lax security?
More importantly though, why would they?
What would anyone gain in doing so?
I put my shoe back on, slipped the chisel into a pocket. I examined the glass display case once again. The girl was weeping again, her body convulsing in big, heaving sobs, I did my best to ignore them.
The glass was thick. Looked to be airtight. No opening. It was designed to seat three pieces of jewellery, fixed to its base, in holdings that would not allow them to dislodge. It was much larger than it had any cause to be.
“Why won’t you help me?” The little girl pounded on the glass, tears streaming down her face. “Why won’t you help me?” She screamed.
Maybe it was the glass, or the night, or my imagination, but it sounded… off.
I turned, went back to the job.
I swapped the real ring with the replica I had brought to the sound of pounding. I gathered up my tools.
One last look.
She was beating her head against the glass.
Thump thump thump.
Her face was bruised, battered, a great swelling on her forehead. The tears were touched with red.
“Let me out!” She scraped her fingers down the glass. The fingernails were torn and tattered. Her shoes were scuffed.
I stood there for a long moment.
I reset the alarm and climbed into the roof.
“Well?” Said the fat man.
“Sorry, what was that?”
“Was there anything unusual about the delivery?” You set me up, you fat bastard.
“No. Nothing at all.” I gave him his package and left him to his coffee.