Flash Fiction — 28 Days of Stories #9 — Prompt: a crime caper, chicken wire, and a hidden room
“It’ll work,” Ronny said, leaning on the table in the Weird Dough Donut Shop.
Norm sat across from Ronny, unconvinced. “If we get caught….”
“We won’t get caught!” Ronny said. “Everyone hates this guy except for the lady who lives below him.” His eyes shifted. “And nobody likes her, either.”
Norm weighed the statement. “And it’s just a book.”
Ronny, nodding with a mouth half-full of donut, said, “Just some fancy book.” He washed down the last of the donut with coffee. “Buddy says we get a hundred grand each just to get the book to him. I could use a hundred grand.”
“Who couldn’t?” asked Norm. “But why two people?”
Ronny leaned in further. “It’s a big place. We get in, find the room, find the book, get out.”
Norm raised an eyebrow. “What do you mean, ‘FIND the room’?”
Ronny sat back, smirking sheepishly. “The guy had some work done on the place. Buddy says there’s a secret room. The book’s in there. He saw the insurance form.”
Norm kept his eyebrow raised. “Security system?”
Ronny leaned in again. “The jerk hates technology. Keeps everything manual. That’s why he lives in a place where there’s security. Buddy runs maintenance. If it plugs in, he knows. There’s nothing he doesn’t know about that building.”
“Except where a tenant put a secret room to hide a book,” Norm said.
Ronny rolled his eyes. “Look, if you don’t wanna do this, I respect that. But I wanted to give you first shot.”
Norm looked out the window. He was already working some double shifts at the shop and doing odd jobs to get out of the hole he’d dug for himself. Gambling problems. He spun his empty coffee cup. “When?”
Ronny smiled. “Next time the guy leaves town. Buddy worked it out. Routine maintenance day.”
Ronny and Norm rode the service elevator to the 22nd floor. They had maintenance badges clipped to their polo shirts. The 22nd floor was always last. The tool cart had everything they might need. Buddy even stapled chicken wire between the top and bottom shelves to hang rags off of, which made a screen for the random bag on the bottom shelf.
When the elevator door opened, they walked to 2202 and knocked. No answer. Ronny waved the master maintenance badge, and they entered the condo. Massive windows across the front let moonlight spill in through the sheers. The place was crowded with art.
Ronny looked around. “This is what a boss’s place looks like.” He looked at his phone and counted down. “Three, two, one.”
The hum of electricity evaporated. “Will you look at that? Power outage.” He grabbed the bag and headed upstairs like they’d planned.
Norm picked up a small flashlight and flipped it on, scoping out the first floor. Living room here, two bedrooms down there, matching the sketch Buddy had shown them. Norm figured the fancy book wouldn’t be hidden in a bedroom. The living room was all show, and the dining room had a table that extended the length of the windows on this end of the building. That left the kitchen, which should have been the same length as the dining room.
But it was short — by about eight feet, Norm guessed. He pushed all along the walls, hoping a secret door would pop open. Nothing. Then he remembered a video for a wine cellar Eileen joked about wanting him to build. “You hide it in the floor, under a kitchen island,” she said. “Isn’t that brilliant?”
Norm went upstairs. Ronny was scanning the gym. The massive room was right above the kitchen.
“Look at that,” Ronny said. “The jerk has a kitchen island up here just to make smoothies. How lazy is he?”
“Maybe,” said Norm. He walked to the end of the island and pushed. The countertop slid, revealing a staircase to the missing square footage down below. “Or smart.”
“That’s wicked smart,” Ronny said, opening the gate and heading down. Cluttered shelves lined the walls — wine, watches, pens. The book sat on a shelf at the back.
“Mr. William Shakespeare’s Comedies, Histories & Tragedies,” he read aloud. “Looks old.” Norm slipped it into the bag in Ronny’s hand. Ronny just smiled. “A hundred grand each.”
No sooner had they closed the bag, they heard the front door open and then slam shut. They froze.
A woman’s voice sailed through the air.
“Oh PAAAAAATRICK, you lying, cheating, son of a bitch.”
Norm looked at Ronny and ordered, “Don’t move.”
Norm scaled the stairs, slid the counter into place, and tiptoed to the landing. A drunk woman stood in the living room with a bottle of vodka in one hand and a baseball bat in the other.
“Power’s out, asshole. I thought I’d play a little ball.” She stumbled toward a wall of shelves covered with sculptures, glass, and objet d’art.
“Mystique alone, my ass. You’re with AMANDA!” A swing and a smash. “Aruba and BETTIE! With the great arms! Wanna watch me work my arms?”
At every pillar and shelf, the drunk slugger destroyed everything she could reach. Every swing, another woman’s name. Norm lost count at ten. She staggered toward the stairs, balanced her swaying body on the bat, and took a long pull of vodka. She passed out in a heap on the floor.
Norm and Ronny had just enough time before the power came back up to grab a few things from the room and make it out to the hall.
Over the weekend, the media lit up with stories about a woman wrecking her lover’s home while he was on vacation. Millions of dollars in art and collectibles were destroyed. A dozen Rolex watches, some pens, and one book — a Shakespeare First Folio worth millions alone — were missing.
Buddy let the cops into her condo when they arrested her. Sure, she damaged some stuff. But she said she didn’t know a thing about a missing book.