The winner of the Matthew Cross Flash Fiction Collaboration Contest is
I started the story below. See how Jeremy Wilson starts after the red line and takes us to a smart, action-filled and deliciously vengeful ending.
by Jeremy Wilson and Matthew Cross
I like shiny things.
I think most cat burglars do.
Is that why we wear skintight suits and climb tall buildings? Yes. To retrieve shiny things. Plus, it’s just fun.
That’s why I’m hanging off the side of this 16-story, private resi tower right now. From this corner, I can see in one direction the 20 hectare property stretching off into the darkness and the brightly lit, private driveway that winds from the gate at the highway. In the other direction, I can see the private beach and the softly glowing surf. As you might guess, some pretty rich people live here. Some of the richest on the planet: M. Lasone and M. Lasone.
Yeah, those Lasones.
Why is that the richest people have the most beautiful jewels? Oh, yeah, coz they have the money.
My earpiece softly chimes, bringing me back to the task. I test the suction cups I just adhered to the plate window on the top floor. I attach the cables dangling from the roofline. Will it hold? I’ll find out in a few mins.
I liberally apply the repel gel on the glass around the suction cups. The windows were made to withstand everything from lasers to warheads, so they’re pretty tough. But they have seams, which are only covered by polysteel. That’s pretty tough, too, which is why I brought demolition-grade nanobots. They love polysteel.
I stole them from a junkyard. That was a tough job and not at all glamorous.
I highly recommend testing your nanobots before applying them hanging upside down from the 16th floor. I did. I borrowed a suite at the Ritz Boca Hotel in town for an afternoon. It had a lovely walk-in shower. That’s where I learned to apply the repel gel thickly. By the way, I don’t recommend making a reservation at the Ritz Boca for a while. Not until they clean the nanobots out of their plumbing system. Oops.
It’s crucial to go through every step of your plan meticulously. Especially when you’re mixing a job with revenge. On the upside, when you’re seeking revenge, choosing the target is real easy. I’ve had two years trapped at an all-girls prep school to prepare for tonight. It’s gonna go like clockwork.
I’ve timed out everything. There’s the chime in my earpiece again. I carefully open the sealed package holding the nanobots and spread them over the glass. They drift like gray dust across the shiny surface. They have no problem clinging to the slick glass. I’m a little jealous.
I’m not exactly sure how long they’ll take to eat through the polysteel frame holding the window in place. But I tested a small sample of the nanobots on a bar of polysteel thicker than this window. It took them less than sixty breaths to consume the whole thing. Like I said, they love the stuff.
I climb back up to the roof and wait.
I don’t want to be hanging next to that window when the frame is gone.
I cross the roof to the corner’s other side. My guests are beginning to arrive.
This is the offseason for the beach, so the family is away. But there are still a couple of guards and some maintenance staff that live here even in the offseason. I gave them a few distractions. Just a couple days ago a package was delivered with an amazing new video game. Don’t worry, I bought it on someone else’s credit and it can’t be traced back to me. The gift card inside says “Play it loud to unlock bonus features.”
When I climbed up here tonight, the windows on the first three floors were vibrating. So I’d say they have a pretty good sound system in there. And I’m counting on that to distract them from the fact that the rooftop cameras went out for a little bit. I’m just jamming them until I get inside.
The second distraction is forming at the gate on the highway.
Someone spread the word of a secret blitz party. Meet Downtown. Bring your own transportation and your own drinks. Costumes encouraged. Party favors will be provided.
As I was climbing the tower, my earpiece chimed to confirm that another scheduled message had gone out with the address for the Lasone’s beach resi.
On my way here, I also dusted the hinges of the gates with a tiny amount of nanobots. And from the lights and shouts wending their way down the long driveway, I figure the gates must be open.
Actually, there’s a long line of lights stretching up the highway towards town. Looks like it’s gonna be a rager of a party tonight.
Oh, and the last message said they could park anywhere.
I hear popping sounds and then a low, dull “tonggg.” I walk back to the other wall and look down. The large rectangle of glass is hanging from my wires and swaying gently to and fro. OK, party time for me is over. I slip inside.
It’s a large bedroom. I pad to the closet.
This is not the master suite, which takes up most of the floor. This is an adjoining guest room next to the elevator. The closet actually has a back door that leads to utility rooms and the machinery for the elevator. There are cameras here, too. And I have to jam them with the equipment in my backpack until I get to the bare patch of wall right behind the huge, walk-in closet in the master suite.
On the other side of this wall, the closet itself is jammed full of clever security features, including cameras and lasers and whatnot. And two combination locks that I can’t crack. Sure, I can jimmy or pick simple locks. That’s a necessary skill for a high-story thief. But I’m no safecracker.
But I don’t have to be. Not when you back the safe up to a simple cinderblock wall. And not when you don’t even guard that wall with cameras or any kind of alarms. Fools! When you do that, you give me all the time in the world.
I set my pack down and draw out the heaviest and most expensive piece of equipment I’ve ever used. It’s an industrial marine drill. Works wet or dry, hot or cold. I slip the air filter over my mouth and nose and slide earprotectors over my ears and the earpieces. This is gonna get loud.
See why I planned for some loud distractions?
The drill cuts through the cinderblock like a hot knife through crème dela crème. There it is, the dull-gray finish of the back of the safe! I clear a larger whole in the cinderblock. This is where it gets tough. I have to make a hole large enough for the top half of my body and then lean into the hole. I snag a brocade chair from the bedroom.
Don’t worry, I jammed the cameras both ways. And I’m careful not to leave a trail of cement dust everywhere I go.
I can’t hear what’s going on around me because of the earprotectors. So I’m looking around furtively every 50 breaths. It’s annoying and the sweat protector across my forehead is beginning to feel damp. My earpiece gives another chime. This is a special chime that sounds like a short trumpet fanfare. That was supposed to celebrate finding the back of the safe. After all, finding it on the first try is no guarantee. But I’m already drilling into the safe’s outer core. So I’m well ahead of schedule.
I’m not normally superstitious. But when you’re on a job, you need to use your brains and your guts. And when your guts say something’s off, you need to listen. Everything is going according to plan. In fact, it’s going far better than expected. And my gut says this kind of luck can’t hold.
But there’s always an element of risk to a job. Otherwise, where’s the fun?
I stop the drill and wiggle my way out of the hole in the wall. I slip off my earprotectors and listen intently in the darkness of the utility hallway. Nothing. I check my jamming device. It has a small screen that allows me to see the feeds coming from cameras very close to me. I click through all the cameras I can reach on this floor. Everything looks dark and quiet. I left sonic sensors on the wall of the double elevator shaft. No movement of the elevators.
I even check my jammer device again to make sure I haven’t been jamming one of the cameras this whole time. That could draw attention.
I shrug and get back to work. You can plan for every eventuality. In fact, you must. But there’s always an element of risk to a job. Otherwise, where’s the fun?
I eliminated all the risks I could. I timed this out perfectly. I have to trust to my distractions and stick to the timetable.
The standard version of this safe is built with five layers of polysteel with some thin carbon layers in between. Even that standard version requires some heavy-duty floor supports, which are even more expensive than the safe itself. My timetable allows for seven polysteel layers with possibly a few extra carbon layers.
I figured M. Lasone really wanted to protect his wife’s lavalier. After all, I had nearly stolen it the first time two years ago. Well, I actually had stolen it. I was literally holding it in my hand when they caught me. But I looked up at the judge through wet eyelashes and he knocked it down to “attempted theft.” Old fool.
Of course, he still sentenced me to stay on this lousy planet and go to school. School!
And then the Lasones offered to pay my tuition at the prestigious Wycombe Hall boarding school. The same school their own daughter attended, they told the judge. But don’t think they were doing me any favors. Sending a poor girl to Wycombe is cruelty, not kindness.
But did you know that rich girls like to gamble? They do. Especially when the betting pools are based on their classmates’ social lives and their steps into womanhood. More than once there was an awkward throng waiting for some debutante to come out of the shower in the locker room.
PopPop was a bookie, so I knew a lot about the trade. But I put together some betting pools he never would have imagined. That’s how I paid for this amazing drill.
Thief, con artist, bookie. Maybe Wycombe did help me round out nicely.
The drill breaks through to the inside of the safe. I’m stunned. The drill bit spins in midair for a few breaths before I release the trigger. That cheap, hairless, milk drinker Lasone! He put his wife’s most precious jewels inside a five-layer safe. A basic model.
I should feel grateful, but I don’t. I feel insulted!
I shake my head. You’re on the job. Focus!
I pull the marine drill out. It’s no good for cutting at angles. I insert my telescoping drill and camera. I drill upwards through two shelves and there it is. The lavalier. It captures the light from the drill and paints blue fractals on the safe’s walls.
A warning chimes in my earpiece. The elevators are moving. It could be something. It could be nothing.
I flick my wrist and the lavalier slides down around the long neck of the drill. With a few twists, I maneuver the necklace over the hole in each shelf and gravity does the rest.
There’s my beauty!
Resting in the dust-covered palm of my gloved hand.
Another chime. One of the elevators has moved above the fifth floor. I pull out of the hole and flip through the camera feeds. Again, I can’t see every camera on this floor, but nothing seems amiss.
I slip the lavalier down my neckline. My own necklace ends in a simple hook at my breastbone. The lavalier snags on the hook. I tug to make sure it’s secure. It feels cool against my skin. I tremble.
There’s a funny thing about rich people. Despite all their vast wealth, they’re very cheap when it comes to someone outside their circle. Say, the help, for instance. With my bookie earnings, I was able to supplement one of the maid’s meager wages. And you wouldn’t believe the things she told me about M. Lasone and M. Lasone.
For one thing, that’s one sick marriage. I kind of let the maid think I was a gossip reporter. That made her a lot less suspicious when I asked about their bedrooms, their jewelry, and their schedules. But I also had to listen to a lot of details about the Lasones, including the children, that I can’t unhear.
The best secret I learned was about the safe room. It takes up two floors of the subbasement. And there’s a glide tube from the master bedroom straight down to the safe room.
I slip the backpack over one shoulder and head out through the bedroom closet. I leave the rest of the gear behind. I always handle all my gear with gloves so bio traces are minimal and degrading every sec.
I flinch as I open the closet door into the bedroom. In total darkness, I can tell a difference in the trace light from outside. Then I feel the ocean breeze and smell its salty tang. Turns out the nanobots were real hungry and all the windows along that wall have fallen out of their frames. I hear more popping sounds and one of the windows on the other wall silently falls out of sight.
There are no audible house alarms, but my elevator sensors now chirp in my ear. Both elevators are headed up. With windows on this floor dropping out of the sky, they have to know something’s up. Plus, I probably triggered some motion alarms in the safe or its closet sometime during the drilling and at least one more when I lifted the lavalier from its base.
It’s time to join the party outside.
In my pack, I have a party dress that slides easily over my catsuit. I also have a cat mask. A little inside joke. But the costume serves a practical purpose. It hides my real features from cameras, whether they be security cameras or cameras carried by partiers. After all, I’m still on parole and I can’t be seen at this party.
I also have five mailer pouches in my pack. When I reach the party outside, all I have to do is find five of my plants wearing orange vests. There should be ten people wearing orange vests, so five should be easy to find. Then all I have to do is hand off my envelopes and make my exit.
The slider tube is in M. Lasone’s smaller closet behind a parquet door. I type in the code, step in, and glide down the brightly lit tube for 16 floors.
Or at least it should’ve been 16. Two floors down and I know something’s wrong. And then it hits me . . . literally. The ceiling of the tube collapses onto my head as the tube crashes through the side of the resi tower.
Looks like I may have miscalculated the appetite of the nanobots. Hungry little rascals.
As the tube careens into the sand below, I do my best to stick the landing to the great amusement of the revelers. I land on my feet, obviously, and quickly check my mask before turning and throwing my hands in the air, screaming like I just won the lottery. A thousand wild eyes light up and mix with a deafening roar as I’m swept up in a cresting wave of intoxicated party goers. With the side of the building practically dissolving, there’s nothing stopping the throng from exploring their new playground.
I should feel safe within the chaos, but something’s not right. There’s too much orange. Glancing around, I realize there’s way more than ten people wearing orange vests. Apparently construction worker is a very popular costume.
Time to improvise.
I check the camera feeds one last time. The remaining guards and staff are all abandoning ship.
A self-appointed DJ has set up shop on the upper floor. With all of the windows missing, it’s become quite the nightclub. I can feel the bass from here.
I spend a few too many breaths staring at a camera feed of two drunk girls violently squabbling over a throw pillow but, hey, who doesn’t like a good cat fight?
Suddenly, a familiar silhouette stumbles into the frame. It’s “Princess” Lasone, awkwardly coaxing some rando onto the makeshift dance floor. I should’ve known she’d show up to a rager at her own resort. Probably even took credit for it. I hate her.
I decide to scrap the mailers. I can’t risk handing the lavalier to a stranger or getting caught with it myself. Plus, this was as much about revenge as it was about the shiny.
I quickly thread through what’s left of the party on the beach until I find what I’m looking for: A bubble-gum-pink Benz with a diamond-studded license plate that reads “M&Ms.” Barf.
I check the handles. Unlocked, of course. I rummage through the compartments but finally decide to stash the lavalier in Princess’s glove box. Crazy, right? But the people who get hired to clean up this sort of thing know better than to mess with the Lasones’ things.
A cacophony of sirens and diesel engines signals my cue to slink away into the darkness.
I figure either her car will get towed, allowing me to easily recover the lavalier from the impound yard before Mommy and Daddy come to the rescue. Or she’ll get caught with it and she’ll actually have to go to jail this time. Did I mention that rich girls like to gamble?
Either way, I win.
After all, she’s always been a terrible big sister.
I hope you enjoyed this piece of flash fiction that Jeremy Wilson and I wrote together. He’s a great collaboration writer!
If you enjoyed Jeremy Wilson’s prize-winning ending, please make sure and share some kind comments below.