I love being the focus of attention.
The two gents staring across at me were solidly-built, no-nonsense men and I could see that they were hanging on to my every word.
The tall one, Manny, seemed to be the thinker of the duo. He was the one asking all the questions. Fred was quieter, to the point that I could barely recall what his voice sounded like. I had arranged for both men to meet me – within half an hour of each other – at this diner, to size them up. Their telephone numbers had been given to me by a contact who was also an ex-convict, and who owed me some favours. I had asked for two men for a task that needed two hours of fast work that involved breaking and entering.
I had summoned Fred first, and quickly found out he was game, so long it involved no dead bodies. He was willing to smash windows, even knock together a few skulls if the price was right, but no corpses; he wanted nothing to do with that. I assured him quickly on that point. None of us, I told him, would be carrying weapons. Manny had turned up twelve minutes later, to find us both nursing beers. If he knew Fred, he gave no sign of it, and sat down and asked what I had in mind.
Revealing no details, I told him – while Fred listened in silence – that I had hard information about a cache of family heirlooms. The owner kept them in the house in a safe in the bedroom. I knew this because I had worked for the man as a personal secretary. He lived with his wife in a bungalow located in the crook of a valley. There was a watchman at the gates to be taken care off, plus an alarm inside. “Are you interested?” I asked.
He studied me. “The watchman… What degree of violence are we talking about here?”
“We tie him up. If he resists, he might have to be knocked out.” I nodded to Fred. “We’re already clear on that score: we’re after the loot, but not at the cost of human life.”
He nodded. “Count me in.”
“Very well…” I said softly, and got up. “My car’s outside.”
Manny put out a hand. “We don’t even know your name.”
I smiled at him. “Call me Debby.”
“His name is Egge, a financial consultant. We get in through the gates. The rest is child’s play.” We were inside my station wagon, and I was in the driver’s seat.
Manny caressed his cheek thoughtfully. “You make it sound easy.”
“Believe me, it is. I’m surprised no one’s thought of it before.” I looked at my watch. “The Egges should be leaving the house now. We’ll be there in ten minutes.”
Both men started. “What? Right now?”
I nodded. The element of surprise had caught them off-guard. But doing it like this – suddenly – was my assurance that neither man would have time to spring a double-cross, or hatch a counter-scheme. “I have everything we need in the back. Are you in or out?”
Fred’s gaze met mine in the rear-view. Then, without warning, he cracked a smile. “I like your style.” He tossed his fag out the window. “I’m in.”
“Manny?” I asked, quietly.
I heard him crack a knuckle. “It sounds too easy.” He said, finally. “Have you considered the risks? If the bloke has gems on the estate, how do we know the place isn’t wired to alert the cops when we break in?”
“I’ve been working there a year. The house has two main entrances, one up front, the other at the side. We’ll enter from the side: it can’t be seen from the road. We’ll get 30 seconds to disarm the alarm system. I have the code. It’s located on the wall to the left side of the door through which we’ll gain entry.” I passed a paper to Fred. “Your job.”
“And the guard?” he asked.
“That’s my job.” I slowed the car and pulled in outside a high stone wall. “This is it, lads. Over the wall is the estate. The gate is just beyond.” I turned, looked Manny in the eye. “Well?”
It was a high-pitched scream, and at that hour, surrounded by the silence of the country in the late evening, it carried. I ran toward the gates of the Egge property. Fred was dashing behind me, with a stick in his hand.
Approaching the gate, I screamed again. I stopped at the gates, and grabbed the bars. “Help!” I cried, shaking the gates. “For God sake, someone help me, pleeeee-se…..”
The lone guard appeared from his post, looking alarmed. “Hey! What the hell-”
I pointed behind me where Fred had stopped. He stared then began striding, stick raised. “Let me in!” I shouted. “He’s trying to kill me!”
The release button was inside his box, and he quickly jabbed it down and I squeezed through the opening and found myself inside the grounds. He was reaching for the lock button when I held my weapon to his forehead.
Manny brought the car to the gates, and when both men were inside with the tools, I locked the gates. “What the hell’s that?” Manny hissed, gesturing at the gun. “We agreed-”
“It’s a tranquilizer gun.” I whispered, not wanting the guard to hear. “It only fires darts.”
We moved quickly to the side entrance, Fred leading. Manny carried the burlap with the tools, and I held the gun.
There, my associates looked at me for guidance. I unzipped the burlap and took out a torch. “Fred – you ready?” He nodded, and stood at the side of the door. “Okay – here goes.” With the torch, I smashed in the glass of the mid-section. Fred stuck a gloved hand through and released the latches.
Fred hurried inside with another torch and his code. I held up my hand in a gesture that the rest of us should wait till the coast was clear. We heard Fred fumbling about, and then his puzzled shout: “Debby – where’s the damn box? There’s nothing here-”
The beast struck like a creature from the darkest reaches of hell itself.
Fred received no warning as the Doberman, trained to attack without a sound, went for his throat. He screamed.
Outside, Manny swore. “What the hell-”
“Hold him.” I pushed the stunned guard towards Manny, and holding both dart-gun and torch ready, swung into the house silently. The noises were coming from somewhere on the floor, and none of them were being made by Fred.
The beam of the torch caught the dog and its head turned in my direction, twin eyes gleaming eerily in the light, and then I pulled the trigger.
“He’s dead, isn’t he?” Manny’s voice was flat. We were inside, all three of us, and I was bending over Fred.
The animal had torn out his throat. If the shock hadn’t killed him, then the sudden blood loss from severed arteries would have. Fred was certainly very dead.
I focused the beam at the guard. “You should have warned us.” My voice was cold.
“I didn’t know!” He cried out. “I swear it! I’ve only been here for four days. We get rotated to different locations each week. It’s the way we operate.”
From my spell at the Egge mansion, I knew he was telling the truth. It was one reason I hadn’t been worried I would be recognized.
“What about the alarm?” Manny was looking at me. “You said it was beside the door.”
“Well, it’s been removed, hasn’t it?” I said, sounding testy. “It’s been a month since I left Egge’s employ. Obviously, things got changed in the interim.”
“I wonder what else got changed after you left.” He looked uneasy as he said it, and I knew he was thinking about the safe upstairs.
The safe was upstairs in the main bedroom, and after the three of us entered I shut the drapes. For the kind of work ahead, we needed light.
“There it is.” I had taken a frame of the wall, and we found ourselves staring at the cover of the safe. “It’s actually part of the masonry. Cheap beggar didn’t want to invest in the real thing.” I upended the burlap on to the floor, and singled out a pickaxe. “We enter through the back.” I prodded the guard into the attached bathroom and told him to remove the mirror from the wall-unit. “There. If we dig through that wall, we’re in.” I motioned the guard. “You start first.” Noting his surprised look, I pressed the barrel deeper into his side. “Now!”
The first case Manny brought out contained an array of necklaces and diamond-encrusted rings, and I felt goose bumps rise as we collectively stared, mesmerized. Manny’s mood had improved to a degree that told me he had forgotten about Fred.
He transferred the loot to the same burlap, now empty of tools. We exited the bathroom, my gun still up. I knew that this was where Manny and I could let down our guard. And though Manny was a big man, the guard looked incredibly fit.
A sound made me stiffen. I went to the door and peered into the darkness. I could hear the click-click of nails against the wooden floor. The Doberman, I thought, and quickly shoved the door shut.
I pulled the guard to a window on the east wall. “Open it! That’s our way out.”
He pulled back the drapes as I killed the lights with a gloved finger. Manny rushed to my side. “Debby, what is it?”
“The dog’s awake.” I whispered, my eye on the guard. “The drug was for a human. The effects must have worn out.” Manny went pale, and he moved away from the door. “We can’t go back that way.” I headed for the window, now open, and jabbed the guard on the arm. “We’re leaving. You first.”
He climbed over the sill, and dropped onto the sloping roof, lined by tiles, which overlooked the back garden. As he stood there, I thrust a torch at him. “Take this. Find us a way down.” Obligingly, he shone the beam over the tiles, turning as he did, so that his back was towards me.
It was the chance I was waiting for. Sitting on the sill, I punched both my feet into his back forcefully.
He was flung forward, uttering a surprised grunt before falling face-down on to the tiles. His body turned and he rolled, screaming, over the edge and three floors down to hit the ground.
“What the-” It was Manny, but of course, I’d been expecting it. “Are you out of your bloody mind?”
I pulled the drapes closed, and turned on the lights. “Think, Manny!” I said pointedly. “Fred is dead. The dog is still around, so we can’t recover the body. The minute Fred died, we were in trouble…” I saw that Manny had got himself under control. He was still breathing rapidly, but at least he was listening. “The original plan was to get in, steal the gems and push off. We would have shot the guard with a dart and left him near the gates. For a share of the loot, he would have told the police that a masked man approached him and fired at him.”
Manny looked incredulous. “You call that a plan? You actually believe the guard would have played along?”
“If he believed the option was a bullet in his skull, then yes.” I said simply.
Manny was shaking his head. “This was supposed to be a simple break-in…”
“Manny!” My voice was firm. “The minute Fred died, there’s no way the guard would have co-operated. That, effectively, signed his death warrant. So I had to re-work it so it appeared the guard executed the break-in.” I had been expecting his surprised look. “Not so far-fetched, Manny. These agency guards keep rotating. Some are ex-cops, and not all reliable. Our guard knows when Egge and wife are out of town. Now, how to make it look like the guard was involved? One, there’s no tampering with the gates, nothing to indicate we entered any other way. This suggests the guard’s involvement.
“Two, look at the state of his shirt uniform. It’s stained and covered with grime. The cops will also find his fingerprints on the pickaxe and torch that I handed him. How much more evidence will they need?
“The next step was obvious: get rid of him so he can’t talk. When they reconstruct the scene, they’ll see he tried to get out the window – which has his prints all over it – but slipped and fell to his death. They’ll find Fred and assume he’s an associate.” I exhaled. “Initially, I worried that the cops would compile a list of people from Egge who knew the layout of this place. I would naturally be one of those people. But now, they’ll be convinced the guard was the inside man. The fact that the gems are missing means that someone got away, of course…”
He was looking at me strangely. “You really are one cold bitch.”
I shrugged. “Survival, Manny. That’s what it boils down to now.” I turned, peered out the window. “No way out this end.”
Manny was frowning. “Why not exit the way we came in-” And then he remembered. “The dog…” His shoulders slumped.
I yanked the gun from my belt. “Never say die, Manny.” I walked to the door.
He stared. “Where the hell are you going?”
“This is our only way out.” I put my ear to the door. If she was out there, she was keeping very quiet. “If I can drop her like I did the first time, we’re home free.”
His eyes bulged. “What if it nails you first?”
I pinned him with a cold glance. “You have a better idea?” That shut him up, and I opened the door. “Don’t lock it.” I closed the door behind me, and stood in the corridor. I had switched on the single overhead lamp before we had entered the bedroom, knowing in advance what I would have to do.
I began singing in a low voice.
Somewhere out there was a killer Doberman who I hoped had a good memory. When the boss was away, I had made it my prerogative to feed the dog, Tess, every chance I could get. One of the things I did while giving her the food was to sing, sometimes hum this song called Fly Away, Baby over and over again, hoping it would strike a chord deep within what passed as a memory. I never tried anything as stupid as putting a hand through the bars. Tess was, after all, a deadly attack machine. Licking hands had probably never been on her list of options while being trained. Still, I managed to get as chummy as it was possible under those circumstances.
Standing still now, watchful, I continued to sing, my weapon raised and ready to fire if it looked like the bitch was about to attack. I heard the sound of her nails on the steps, and my heart began hammering away. I edged back against the door, still singing. She paused at the top step, head cocked as she listened to what I hoped was a tune she would recognise. I waited for five of the longest seconds of my life under the intense scrutiny of that dog before I tapped the door with my free hand.
“Debby – is that you?” called out Manny from behind the door.
Instantly, I saw the dog’s ears twitch, and her flanks began to stiffen. I hummed softly, not daring to stop.
“Debby?” He sounded almost hysterical.
Her eyes were blazing now, and I turned the knob on the door.
Pushing the door in, I swung into the room and in the same movement, sensing Tess begin to move, scurried behind the door.
“What the hell-”
I never saw the look in his eyes. Only his scream rang out as Tess brought him down in a single leap. I huddled behind the door until Manny’s whimpers died, then came out, gun raised. “Sorry, Tess.” I whispered, and shot the dog in the flank. It was imperative that the dog was found with a dart in its side. This would divert suspicion from the truth: that the individual who had escaped had known or been familiar with the animal.
I leaned over the two bodies, one dead, the other now unconscious, and lifted the bag containing the gems.
I walked downstairs, switching off the lights as I descended, then went round the back to make sure the guard was dead.
It was now ten past ten, and I walked down the drive in the shadows, carrying the burlap. In the guard station, I operated the release button and let myself out.
My car was where Manny had parked it. I got in, peeled off my gloves and drove off.
Oliver M. looked away from the report and across his desk at me. “Not bad, Lisa…” He murmured. We were in his study on the first storey of his bungalow. “When I hired you a month ago, I had no idea you had any accounting skills as well.” He laid out the papers on his desk. “Your resume made no mention of it.”
I smiled. “We all have hidden talents, Mr. M.”
He raised an eyebrow then tapped the report. “This is merely a blueprint. I want a proper report of this proposal typed and ready by this evening. Six copies for my associates.”
It was my turn to nod. “Sure.” I rose, smoothed down my skirt then pretended to hesitate.
He looked up. “What is it, Lisa?”
“It’s probably not my place to suggest it, Mr. M…”
He leaned back, amused. “Another suggestion, Lisa? Sit down. If this one is as good as your last one, you’re going to make me a rich man!”
I shrugged. “It’s about Mrs. M’s jewellery. She keeps a lot at home and I know you have a great security system… But why not invest in something foolproof, something no burglar would expect?” I saw he was listening hard. “What I had in mind was a trained attack dog…”