Edgar slipped through the window of the apartment without making a sound. It was a gift, and he’d been practicing most of his life. It wasn’t his most valued skill, but he often thought it his most valuable. The Professor had already done their part in disabling the literally arcane security system. Or at least, the parts that had an electrical component. The rest was up to him.
He pulled out a small set of telescoping opera glasses Prof had given him years ago, on their first job together. The glasses were like an old and trusted friend at this point. When not in use, they were a slim flat pill shaped bar in his pocket, easily mistaken for an odd cell phone, but infinitely more useful. He caressed the edge and surfaces in a pattern that was now all muscle memory as he brought them to his eyes. They silently slid open and he scanned the room.
No beams of light—yet, but there were a few places with glyphs on the floor, and the heat signature of guards could be seen bracketing the normal entrance. Their weapons were silhouetted by their life force as slightly cooler spots. Weapons were almost never the same temperature as the people carrying them, but sometimes the contrast was deceptively slight. These two goons were packing cold in shoulder rigs.
Edgar evaded the glyphs and made his way to the bedroom door. He adjusted the focus and magnification as he checked out the lock. It was a high-end pin and tumbler and offered no resistance to his skilled fingers and picks. He opened the door slowly and with a practiced touch, lifting the weight of the door gently by the knob to keep as little shearing force as possible on the hinge pins and screws, and feeling for any warning that the hinges might creak.
So far, so good. The mark of an amateur was to think this had been too easy. It wasn’t too easy, he was just prepared, and the greater challenge was yet to come.
The bedroom was large and open. The queen sized bed was slightly rumpled but made, and pressed into the far windowless corner, pinned there by a nightstand bearing a simple shaded lamp. There was a window that began at the foot of the bed, but it was covered by heavy curtains. A closet with sliding doors was to his right, and to his left, a chest of drawers and a bookshelf filled the wall space between the entrance and what appeared to be the bathroom door. All the lights were off and no one was home, just as planned.
Pulling the snoopers from his pocket again, he scanned the bedroom and saw the shape of a door on what appeared to be a blank expanse of wall. There was a line traveling from it to a spot behind the nightstand.
“Jackpot” muttered Edgar, and he padded over to the nightstand to investigate. He pulled out what appeared to be a ballpoint pen for the arthritic, but closer examination would reveal the hole in the tip was a slit about a quarter inch wide. He pressed the stud on the back and a square tipped hobby knife blade slid through the opening; matte black on one side, and polished to a mirror on the other. In his line of work, it was rare for anything to do only one thing. Or anyone for that matter. He could hear a drunk in the hall arguing with the guards. Prof was right on time, as always.
Using the mirror side of his utility knife he was able to see a small button on the backside of the nightstand, bracketed by razor blades set to injure the less wary. He pressed the button and turned to watch a panel of wall pop ever so slightly out, as if the drywall were failing at the seams.
He scanned the room with his snoopers again—just as he had few tools to do only one thing, his targets rarely had buttons in their security system that only did one thing, but he didn’t see any changes. Now it was too easy.
When it’s too easy, you only have two options: hurry up or abandon ship. Edgar’s gut told him not to abandon ship. He was running low on food. He moved to the secret panel and pulled it open. Behind the panel was a safe with a combination lock, just like in the movies. One more scan with his snoopers showed the dial was a ruse. If he’d rotated the dial, it likely would have triggered an alarm—or something worse. He was betting on worse.
Unfortunately, the snoopers didn’t reveal how the safe actually opened. That was more useful information than it might appear. The snoopers could find invisible beams of light, thermal signatures, electrical wiring and equipment, and various types of anomalous energy. The only thing they were showing him was that if he rotated the dial more than a quarter turn clockwise, a trigger point on the dial would pass a trigger point on the dial housing, and something would happen. That meant getting this safe open was a mechanical problem, but not one that had to do with the dial.
Or did it? Edgar considered carefully. The surface of the safe door was otherwise featureless, with or without the glasses, but the body of the safe extended past the edges of the opening in the wall, and it would have been too heavy to steal the entire thing anyway. Besides, that housing trigger point suggested some sort of radio was involved and taking a tracking device to your hideout was just bad business. Stealing the safe itself was out.
But what if the dial was still the key? Edgar pulled gently on it, careful not to let it rotate. He gradually increased the force he pulled with, and the moment before his fingers slid off, the dial itself lifted out, pivoting on a hidden hinge and revealing another lock. It was more complex than the door lock as it had several sets of tumblers in a ring, all of which had to be resolved simultaneously. It was almost fun.
The lock cylinder rotated and the safe door yielded to him just as the arguing in the hall was getting loud. Edgar pulled out a key fob with four buttons. One button turned off any sort of remotely controllable TV. Another turned them on. The third button was a panic button (more to tell the Prof to flee than a cry for help) and the last button was to let his partner know he’d hit paydirt. He clicked the paydirt button to let his partner know there would be no further need to keep the guards occupied.
Inside the safe was a trumpet. It appeared to be platinum, and swirls of decorative lines of some ancient script flowed along its surface. Edgar grabbed it and ran. He slipped back out the window and descended the fire escape to the alley below. Behind the nearest dumpster was duffel, and in the duffel a hardcase for the trumpet designed by the Prof so it would likely survive an apocalypse. She was amazing.
He cased the trumpet, put the case in the duffel, and slung it over his shoulder, and casually strolled toward the exit of the alley. Easy money. By the time Danny Dafoe noticed, he’d be long gone.
He was looking up at the sky to stretch his neck and stumbled into a drunken man in Metallica t-shirt supported by two giggling strippers that had been coming the other way. Edgar did not envy him the headache or heartbreaking loss of wallet he would surely suffer in the morning. Some people have to learn proper paranoia the hard way.
“What the hell man?” slurred the orgy hopeful, “Watch where you’re going, buddy!”
“Yes, quite right, my apologies,” Edgar replied, wanting to get out of this situation as soon as possible. It wasn’t just the lost time, engaging anyone caused his focus to narrow and made him more likely to miss things.
“STOP, THIEF!” came a roar behind him.
In spite of himself, Edgar turned to look and saw a man in a t-shirt three sizes too small for his elephantine frame looming at the other end of the alley, illuminated by flickering neon. The man started forward on the bare fleshy columns that supported his mass, and reached one hand up in the air. From above, something was tossed down, and without slowing or altering his stride, he caught it in mid-air. It was a trombone with a patina of rust.
Before Edgar could turn to flee, the corpulent pursuer had put the instrument to his lips and delivered a blast that rung out like the wail of a dying boar, sending a cloud of shimmering ruddy brown flakes into the air. The cloud roared toward the startled strangers, adding a scream like a swarm of metal bees to the moan of the trombone. As the cloud came down the alley, it added to its own murk as it tore dust from the brickwork and scoured the paint of the dumpsters and fire escape ladder, each adding their own ring to the symphony of noise. None of it promised anything but doom.
“Damn, Danny noticed,” Edgar muttered.
There must have been some sort of alarm on the trumpet stand itself. He’d checked everything else. Or maybe that button on the nightstand had done something in the main room? Why must proper paranoia be learned the hard way? So much for the thrill of the casual stroll-a-way.
Edgar bolted past the mugging in process and scanned for any way out. He knew he’d never make it to the mouth of the alley, and that cloud was flowing around any obstacle it wasn’t destroying in passing. Screams soon added to the deafening chorus of destruction behind him, and he spotted a shadow in the line of the walls of the alley. Trust a big city to have alleys within alleys.
He dove into the shadow, and continued his headlong rush toward the rectangle of light ahead, plowing through puddles and hidden bags of detritus. Behind him, the deadly swarm passed by, save for a few swirls that trickled through the opening but only made it a few feet in before falling to the ground as so much dust. He stumbled over something and spilled the duffel, but it was no matter. The only things likely to be hurt in the fall were the duffel, and whatever part of him hit the ground.
He picked himself up, grabbed the duffel, and resumed his run. About a hundred feet from the street, a windowless van suddenly appeared, blocking his exit. Edgar stopped and glance behind him, trying to figure a way out of this mess. He saw the shape of Johnny at the other end, trombone at the ready again.
He heard the side door of the van slide open, and looked back, fully expecting to see a team of gunmen in tactical black body-armor and an array of muzzles aiming at him. Instead, The Prof, slightly more wild-eyed than usual was frantically waving him in. He needed no more encouragement but got it anyway in the form of another wail and swarm of metal bees behind him. He tossed the duffel into the van and threw himself after as Prof scampered back to the driver’s seat, put it in gear, and floored it.
There was a spattering of tinking sounds on the rear doors of the van and rear window went from clear to cloudy in half a heartbeat. In the next half heartbeat, it spiderwebbed and blew inward, showering him with pieces of safety glass, but they were away and doing their own roaring down the street by then. After a few long moments, gasping for breath and clinging to the floor for dear life as the Prof took hard turns at full speed, Edgar clambered to his hands and knees and forced the side door shut, then staggered to the passenger seat and buckled up.
The Prof spared him a glance and a grin. “Easy money.”
“Easy money,” agreed Edgar, and they both laughed just a little too loudly.