Ten years ago...
It was a dark and stormy night.
It was 3am, so the dark I was ok with. The stormy part I could’ve done without. I turned up the collar on my coat and felt the rain run down the back of my neck. I was hunkered down behind some trees, looking out over a lawn that cost more to mantain than my office, towards a large house.
The house, like the night, was dark.
I studied it for a while. It didn’t look any different from the last six times I’d studied it.
“Are you just going to skulk there?” said a voice in my ear, making me start. “Or are you actually going to get on with it?”
I picked myself up out of the wet leaves and hissed.
“All in good time. I’m getting ready. Now keep quiet.”
It didn’t really matter whether he was quiet or not - nobody else was going to hear him. He was sat in a van quarter of a mile away. I only heard him via a discrete, and no doubt expensive, earpiece. He heard me via a wireless, and equally expensive, mic clipped to my collar. English might have skimped on the social graces, but he didn’t skimp when it came to tech.
“Right. I’m moving.”
I stayed low and worked my way round the treeline until I was as near to the back corner of the house as I could get without leaving the cover of the trees. I pulled off my backpack and fished around for a pair of binoculars. Flipping off the lens covers, I studied the corner of the house. In the moonlight, I couldn’t see much.
‘Go to night vision.” said English in my ear. “I can’t see anything.”
“You don’t say…” I muttered to myself, and felt around with my index finger for one of the switches on the top of the bino’s. Suddenly the scene in front of me was bathed in a cool electric green glow, and the house stood out like it was floodlit.
“You gettin’ this?” I whispered to my coat collar.
“Widescreen with Dolby stereo.” came back the voice in my ear. “But remember. You break them, you’ve bought them.”
I shook my head and let out a breath of exasperation.
“Ok, show me the cameras.”
I flipped a second switch, and suddenly what looked like orange floodlights appeared in my field of vision.
“Jolly good.” said English. “All the cameras have built in infra-red sensors and a separate emitter that pushes out a beam of light that’s invisible to the human eye, but not to the cameras. Or the binos. You get caught in one of those orange cones that you can see, the light illuminates you and the camera picks you up. And the first thing you know about it is when the handcuffs go on.”
“I’d better keep clear then.”
“Yes, you had. Now. Mount them up.”
I fixed the binoculars to a small tripod and angled them at the house. English got me to make a few adjustments until he was happy with the view being relayed to his van. After a few minutes he was in my ear again.
“It looks like you’ve an eight second window while both those corner cameras are facing away. Get up flat to the wall and you should be good to the door. On my mark.”
I readied myself.
I sprinted as hard as I could for the corner of the building, and plastered myself against some top quality brickwork. I made a mental note to never run anywhere, ever again.
“Well, well.” said the voice in my ear. “I was certain you weren’t going to make that.”
I was too busy having a heart attack to come up with a pithy reply.
A couple of minutes later, I‘d edged along the back of the house, and found myself peering in through a large French window to a darkened drawing room.
“You sure you can get the ground floor sensors offline?” I whispered.
“Of course.” English replied, his voice full of scorn. If anyone were to check back, it’ll look like there was a firmware upgrade applied, and that the sensors went off for 10 mins while the update went through. Switching them off… now.”
I reached into my bag.
“Right.” continued English. “If you get a thin blade and slide it…”
“Won’t work.” I said. “Deadbolts top and bottom.”
I know my way round a set of lockpicks, and looking at these doors, I’d be here until Christmas. And even then there would be no guarantee the the doors would give.
I delved in the bag again, and brought out a large sheet of sticky plastic film which I smoothed on the glass. Then with a diamond tipped scribe I marked the outline of the plastic several times and attached a vacuum operated floor tile lifter to the glass. I pulled a rubber hammer out of my bag and holding the tile lifter firmly with one hand, I looked away and struck the glass soundly with the hammer.
“A hammer?,” muttered a disembodied voice. “God, it’s like working with a philistine.”
I ignored the tetchy voice in my ear, scribed the glass a couple more times, and struck the panel again. This time I felt it give, and was almost pulled through the hole by the weight of the glass. I lowered it onto the ground beside the door and retrieved the lifter.
I was wearing gloves, and I fished around in my bag for a couple of what looked like large, elasticated slippers. Before I stepped into the house I knelt down and slipped them on. They fitted snugly over my shoes. Not only did they mean I didn’t leave footprints, but they also muffled my footsteps. Quite handy when you’re in someone else’s house at three in the morning.
I pulled out a small pen torch from my coat and flashed it around the room quickly. I turned it off again. My eyes were getting accustomed to the dark, and I didn’t want to mess them up with too much light. Crossing the room, I put my hand on the door handle and listened, hard.
“Shut up!” I hissed, and English fell silent again.
I put my ear back to the door. It sounded quiet, so I slowly turned the handle and eased it open a fraction. I peered out into a big hallway which looked empty. I pulled the door open just enough to slip through and closed it behind me.
I could see a couple of the passive sensors high up near the ceiling. I checked my watch. Forty seconds since English had stymied them. I needed to get what I came for and be out in the next nine minutes and twenty seconds, otherwise things would get… awkward.
A metallic ticking from nearby made me stiffen, and I could hear my heart pounding. I looked round, but couldn’t see anything. The ticking came again and I realised it was a radiator cooling. I took a few precious seconds to catch my breath and started moving. I was heading for the study, two doors down and across the hall. There was a large Persian rug between me and it, and I made very sure to edge along the floorboards next to it, rather than put a foot on it. There were more than just ceiling mounted sensors in this house.
The slippers let me slide my feet along the polished floor, and I was quieter than that mouse that lived in a church. The one that won prizes. For being quiet.
I reached the study door and rested my hand on the doorknob. I listened at the door but couldn’t hear anything. Not surprising really. I wasn’t expecting to meet anyone in a dark study at three in the morning.
“How’s it going?” murmured English.
“So far, so good.” I whispered back. “Just about to go in the…”
My hand froze on the doorknob and English had the sense to keep quiet. I’d seen the merest flicker of light from underneath the door.
“I think there’s someone in there.”
I thought hard and I thought fast. Anybody who was supposed to be in this study at three in the morning would have put a light on.
“I’m guessing we have a burglar.” I muttered under my breath.
“What? Apart from you?” said English, in an altogether too bright and breezy manner.
I might be here for nefarious purposes, but they’re good nefarious purposes rather than bad nefarious purposes.
Forget it - I’ll explain later.
I knelt down and peered through the keyhole. I could see some sort of small light source flickering - a torch most likely - but couldn’t see, or hear anyone.
I thought hard for the second time in as many minutes which is far more than I usually like to do in any given twenty four hour period.. If there was someone up to no good in that room, then chances are they were up to the same no-good that I’d intended getting up to. That meant they were almost certainly in front of the safe, and so probably had their back to me.
That was far too many ‘almosts’ and ‘probably’s’ for my liking. It was that level of uncertainty that put you in the hospital. Or worse.
I felt in my pocket for my revolver. I could count on my fingers the number of times I’d used in in anger, and I’d still have enough fingers left over for a selection of rude gestures, but it didn’t hurt to have it.
In the darkness I could see the second hand of my watch ticking away the seconds…
In the darkness… that gave me an idea.
I fished out my torch, and, shielding it with my hand, pointed it straight in my eyes. I had to stifle a grunt as it blinded me and I squinted, but after a few seconds I was able to open my eyes again. I moved the torch across my face for about thirty seconds until my pupils had closed right down. I couldn’t see jack in the hallway any more, but…
As quietly as I could, I edged the door open, felt around just inside the room, and found what I was looking for.
With one smooth motion, I hit the light switch, pushed the door open and brought my revolver up.
The figure opposite me spun round with their hands across their face, and my eyes bulged.
‘Don’t move.” I growled. “I got you covered… Miss.”
The figure in question was about five four, ninety pounds and looked to be in her late twenties. She was dressed head to foot in a skintight black leather catsuit. The plunging neckline was what had momentarily distracted me, but after a few moments dallying, my eyeballs got back on the job.
“Hands in the air.”
The girl squinted, and raised her hands slowly over a neat, elfin bob of blonde hair and glared at me.
“What’s going on?” asked English in my ear.
“Well, well, well.” I said, as much to English as the stranger. “Looks like we have a double booking. Didn’t your parents tell you it was wrong to steal?”
She glared again, but didn’t say a word. Beyond her, a picture was swung away from the wall and the the safe behind it was open. Clearly the home owners were traditionalists.
With a wave of the gun I moved her away from the safe, and moved closer, looking to see if what I had come for was still there.
As was something else.
A small card was propped up inside the safe, with a cross, like a kiss, written on it in red lipstick.
I took a step back and stared at the girl.