All good cat burglars know this. Nothing is ever safe.
The scent of crisp air and cigarette smoke is my first and lasting impression of Brussels. It will snow here, again, tonight, and I am already freezing. The weather conditions are my least favourite part of working outdoors. But that will come later. I'm in a basement, and the heating is on the fritz.
"Rani," I mutter, shoving my fists deeper into the pockets of my parka. He does not hear me, still a right angle over his jeweller's screwdrivers, bent on making everything just perfect. "Rani. Rani…"
I sound like a whining child, and he gives me the annoyed look that I deserve. "What is it, Lucy?"
His sensual European lips make my name sound so exotic. Mmm, baby. "I think I'm developing a fetish," I say quietly. He grins, looking back at his work.
"Tell me about it," he says, picking up another tiny screw. I have to remember to take everything he says literally. He actually wants me to tell him about it.
"Well… it's not as kinky and exciting as it should be, having a fetish," I sigh, half sitting on the bench to reach his packet of cigarettes. The old, wooden surface creaks and moves under me. One of the tiny screws goes rolling into one of the crevices of the table.
"Ah, shit! Shit, meisje…neuken!" he hisses, segueing into Dutch and back again, scanning the benchtop. "Lucy, this is my last one!"
"I'm sorry!" I whimper, sliding off the bench again. He's not angry at me, I think; just worried about the screw.
Yeah, right. "Help me find it!"
I lean carefully over the table again. My keen gaze soon locks onto a glint of silver amongst the wood grain. Every good thief is constantly on the prowl for anything shiny – forget an eagle's eyes, I was a devoted magpie.
I use my fingernails to gently scoop it up, and put my hands over Rani's.
"Here," I say simply, warming his hands with mine. His fingers close over the screw, and he gives me a quick kiss.
"Thanks, baby. I love you."
Well, I guess you don't know what you got 'til it's gone.
At midnight, we're still getting ready to make the heist. The others have arrived now, although they are few - they longue about, smoking and chatting. The air buzzes with anticipation. Most of them don't speak English, so I sit solidly alone, breathing equal parts of air and smoke as the hours get longer.
Some people use cigarettes to relieve stress. I'm always stressed. All good safecrackers know that stress is key. It is under constant pressure, not violent force, that everything will eventually break open.
Sometimes, I like to sit quietly and wonder when my mind is going to do the same.
At one forty-two, we're across town, at the jewelry shop. Yes - people still rob jewelry shops. I shift my feet in the cold, contemplating how my toes can still be numb through two pairs of socks. The briefcase handle in my fist feels permanently fixed there, frozen in place. I'm carrying the tools of my trade. Crime – it's not the career I thought I'd choose. Of course, there were plenty of things I wanted to be as a child.
At age four, I would have been a princess, of course. Nearly ten years old, and I had engaged in the plastic marvels of radio and MTV; being a pop star, adored by fans everywhere, would be my nirvana. As puberty set in, I realized I couldn't sing. My dreams were dashed on the rocks; for a while, I wrote morbid and emotional poetry instead. After that phase passed, I became devoted to greed once more. I studied at college to be a dentist - but that, too, had eventually gone down the drain.
They bear a common theme. A desire to be rich, an ardent young appetite for glory and admiration. The princess and the dentist. My steady disillusionment with these inborn longings was apparent as time went on.
Yet, in a way, I'm still chasing the dream. The dream of lounging on a pile of gold bricks while somebody less important and rich paints my toenails an identical shade. I think I'm tanned, too, since buying my second beachside mansion.
"Lucy?" Rani taps into my consciousness, dissolving the dream before my mind's eye. "Are you awake?"
I nod, readjusting my grip on the case, moving my shoulders up and down in a semblance of psyching myself up. I just look nervous, bobbing up and down ridiculously. Rani laughs and grabs me around the waist, kissing my lips with a brief, welcome warmth. I don't want him to pull away, but he does.
"All good, all good. Let's do this, baby," Rani says, bringing out the trademark smile. So damned charismatic. He turns to the door, pressing his fingers to the wall, where the alarm cable pulses beneath the surface.
I like the way the others in the group look at him - the alpha male, top of the thieves. Respect and admiration shines in their eyes, and I honestly enjoy that. I feel like I'm catching a little bit of his glow, just by being here. The other part of my childhood introspective rose to the surface like a corpse. A prerogative for fame, which had become interchangeable with infamy by now.
I'm not going to be coy about this. Neither will I brag. I have an internet following. So do many housecats.
"Okay, baby, we're in," says Rani, twirling the bolt cutters around in his hand as he opened the door. I felt stiff, immovable, but a brief moment saw me force myself out of the cold, swinging my briefcase as I went.
I want to be reborn as a housecat. To eat, and sleep, and bathe in sunlight; but only if I felt like it. I would never be required to do a single thing.
One alarm and three different sensors later - heat, motion, and heat again – we're in. Sensors are Rani and his friend Ras's specialty, an almost psychic ability to detect and disable. It is an art, but as I watch them work, the tedious nature of the process reminded me of foreplay. I like it, but it feels as if we're beating about the bush. Adrenaline is spiking in my blood, making me edgy, eager to see the finish line.
"Ten minute, Lucy," Ras whispers, motioning toward the first safe. "Security patrol man… come in half one hour."
I'm getting better at deciphering his broken English, and it's not helping my blood pressure. As directed, I run my hands over the cool surface of the metal box, feeling its' give. It's set in gyprock, with a big, shiny combination lock. Metaphorically speaking, this is the bush. I flip open the locks on my briefcase, opening the lid to reveal a set of dentistry tools, including a set of three battery-powered drills fitted with custom diamond bits.
I feel my lips curving into an unbidden smile as I take out the middle one. These were my tools, my friends; I've cracked many a treasure chest wide open with these babies. Even as I cradle the drill against my wrist, aware of its' balanced grip, nostalgia sweeps over me.
I slip the drillbit into the crevice between the lock and the safe door. Bypassing the manual lock is the easiest way into this model, and I point the drill at a forty-degree angle from the top, pulling the trigger.
"Eight minute," I hear Ras mutter behind me, his accent thickened by tension. I swap hands, pushing the drill up directly underneath the disc of the lock. Another thirty seconds, and it emits a loud click of surrender. I grab a titanium-handled oral mirror out of the case, using it to lever the disc forward. It comes out easily, and the latch slides from its' housing – I use the handle of the mirror to pry the door forward, and the safe swings open under my hands.
All good thieves know that speed and subtle movements will get them what they want. When I lay eyes on the treasure inside, I feel a heady hit of relief. There they were… the jewels of Brussels, exactly what I'd come for.
Ras is at my side immediately, grabbing the carefully stacked cases of cut diamonds and shoving them into a backpack. I stand, grabbing my case. I was done here; now, for the next room –
The distant sound of sirens finds my ears unprepared. Breath catching in my throat, I look over my shoulder. Dim flashing lights approach the front window, shining past the display cabinets that my comrades have already looted, growing brighter with each blare of that tell-tale warning. The police are coming. No… the police are here.
From further in, I hear Rani swear loudly in Dutch, before barking short, rapid orders. I don't understand much of his mother tongue, but this one I know. Get out, he says. Get the hell out of here.
I run for it.
I skid around the corner, into the back room, the door already ajar from a crowbar attack. Ras grabs the backpack and heads after me, his eyes wild with fear. I only catch a glimpse of him as I round the next corner, lunging for the fire exit.
Rani and a few of the others are already out in the alley when I emerge. I feel my heart pounding in time with my feet as I run after them, catching them swiftly. Rani grabs my right hand, and we run together, the flashing lights on our heels.
As the darkness of the backroad swallows us, I hear the van's engine revving furiously. In a few minutes, we'll be driving away at top speed, jazzed from another successful heist. Rani's palm presses flush with mine, warm and wonderful. Elation grasps me loosely, my feet flying over clouds of pride. We did it.
This was the rush that I craved, and this is what all good cat burglars know from birth.
Nothing is ever, ever, safe.
A/N: I'm a NaNoTraitor for writing this! Hope you enjoyed it :)
This was written for the Review Game forum's November writing contest. Voting is open to everyone, so feel free to drop by and vote for your favourite story/poem. Adieu.