When I got home, my parents yelled at me, again. I used the excuse of having to stay at school, which partially got me off the hook, but they were still upset. I quickly vacated to my room, and hung out there, bored. Life was dull without the internet. It was also too dark and late to hang the white sheet to signal the senders of the mail that I’d accepted their offer.
As the night wore on, I eventually thought it might be a good idea to get some clothes and supplies together, to use if we got a reply from the thievery contractors. I didn’t know whether they would assign a timetable, but tomorrow night seemed as good as any. Any time during the school week would be hard because my parents wouldn’t like me going out, but on the weekend it made sense for me to be out late. I was still grounded, but after a whole morning of boredom and watching TV, I was pretty sure they’d let friends come over, and me leave with them later.
If it was night, it would be much safer to sneak into people’s houses. That meant dark clothes would be best. I found a pair of black cargo pants buried at the bottom of my pants drawer. They were ugly enough they hadn’t ever been worn, but they still fit. My mom bought them because she thought I needed to have a pair, and they were coming in handy now, so I guessed she was right. I tried on the pants, and walked a few steps. They were mostly silent, which was good. I also managed to scavenge up a long sleeve shirt, to cover my skin. It was a smooth material, but not too loose, and it wouldn’t get caught on anything. Some black socks completed the outfit. For my head I’d either look for a ski mask at some point, though I didn’t think we had any of those, or alternatively tie a t-shirt around my head.
I put on the whole regalia, and checked myself out in the mirror. Pure awesome ninja. There wasn’t any skin showing besides my hands and the slit in my head covering, but the hands would be a problem. I didn’t think I had any gloves, but I’d look downstairs in the morning. No use raising my parents’ suspicions.
I had a hard time getting to sleep that night. The anxiety wound through my stomach, squeezing tight. Nothing to be nervous about, I just may or may not get a letter back tomorrow, if they could still send it by the time I put the sheet up. I hoped they could, since I really wanted to start on the thieving. The anticipation made it hard to calm down, since I was looking forward to it so much. Not the actual breaking in, but just knowing that I’d get money if I did something, almost like a job. And the gear was pretty awesome, though I just knew I’d forget something important tomorrow. There were the clothes, then anything else that may be useful. I’d most likely not walk out of the house naked, so it was the other stuff that would get left out. That made some of the excitement change back to nervousness, but at least it got my blood flowing slower, with less adrenaline. I drifted off to sleep, tossing and turning.
The sun streamed through the window, much more powerfully than the previous few days. It was much later in the day. I tried to go back to sleep, since it was only 9:30, but was too antsy. The day was waiting, and staying in bed would just delay it.
There was a white sheet in the closet, one that was big enough that it would probably be seen if I put it on the roof. The problem was, I had no idea how to do that. I couldn’t nail it down, and I didn’t want it to be permanent. I scrounged around the closet, then the utility drawers in the kitchen and elsewhere, for an idea. My parents seemed to still be in bed, or at least I didn’t see them. That was good so they wouldn’t ask me what I was looking for.
Finally, in the back of a cabinet, there was some rope and small clamps. Those would work, and I could tie it to the chimney or something. I climbed out my window and onto the roof, carrying the supplies. The rope I threaded through the gutter, then to the chimney. I put two clamps on it, which were then tightened around a bunched up part of the sheet. I’d be lucky if that held. The wind was barely moving, but the sheet soon fluttered in that direction. It didn’t seem like the sheet would be too noticeable to neighbors, which was good as well. Now there wasn’t anything else to do but wait, and hope for the best.
I got down, and watched out the window, trying to keep an eye out for any news helicopters, while also mentally composing a list of supplies. A flashlight was the most important, and I thought we had at least one. After that, it got more sketchy. Gloves were also critical, but if absolutely necessary, latex ones would work. Those would be much more visible, but I was hoping we didn’t meet anyone, at least this first time. Then we also needed backpacks, to hold supplies, as well as loot. There were probably a few spares lying around the house. Maybe rope as well, though I hoped we wouldn’t need that. I was planning to just go in an unlocked door, a window at most. No rooftop escapades quite yet.
Then I saw it. In the distance, there was a reflected light moving across the sky, not in a straight line, but weaving and dipping. Most likely a news helicopter. I let out a breath I didn’t know I’d been holding. I did hope my parents wouldn’t see a shot on TV with the sheet, but they probably wouldn’t recognize it as our house. I hoped the contractors for the thieving were better at identifying location from aerial shots than a normal person would be.
The helicopter became more visible as it came closer, the body more defined. The whirring blades thrummed, sound coming through the window. It was one that had become all too common since the quarantine was enacted. The whole country, the whole world, was watching us.
After the helicopter had passed, the sheet needed to be brought down before someone saw it and came over to ask us about it. A chill rushed in as I reopened the window. That might be a problem for opening windows or things tomorrow night; the cold would numb our hands.
I could barely reach the gutter leaning out the window, but finally managed to untie the rope. It was easier to leave the rope up there and not climb onto the roof again, so I just shook the rope and let the clamps slide down, bringing the sheet along with them. I bunched it up in the corner of my room, in case I needed it again. I probably would, since there wasn’t any other way to contact people on the outside for a while.
I felt more confident as I stood up, ready to take on whatever may come. Some of my jitters were gone, now that I was fairly certain a helicopter had seen the sheet and it would be on the news. There wasn’t anything to do but wait until the mail came. It normally arrived sometime around twelve, but that varied day to day, and on the weekends, it sometimes came later.
The pile of clothes was still stacked against the wall where I’d put them, almost hidden in the shadow cast by the door. Not really invisible, but it was nice to think so; they needed to hide me in darkness tonight. If my parents were still asleep, I could gather the supplies we would need for tonight. As I walked down the stairs, I tried to temper my expectations, so I wouldn’t be disappointed if there wasn’t a letter, but it was impossible. No use subduing the excitement; I decided I’d go through with some act of burglary tonight, no matter if a response came or not.
The mail came at two. I was eating lunch, looking out the window, as the mail vehicle pulled into view from the left. I first checked to make sure my parents weren’t watching, before rushing out to get it. The vehicle vanished again, and I tore open the mailbox, and flicked through the individual pieces as quickly as possible. A letter to my mom. A business envelope for my dad. A junk magazine. Bills.
Disappointment coursed through me when I came to the end of the stack. No letter. Walking back to the house, I looked through them again, vainly. Wait, what was that? In a stack of five identical bill envelopes, which I had rushed through faster than the rest, was the red crest of Right Man Industries.
Success! It was real, or at least an elaborate enough prank that they would somehow get a same day letter delivered. An involved scam could be just as fun as the real thing, at least for a little while. Whatever, that didn’t matter right now, because fuck yes! I practically leaped as I rushed back inside, setting the mail down on the kitchen table, and taking the stairs two at a time up to my room. I caught a surprised glance from my mom, leaving the bathroom, but ignored it. I was going to be a hired thief!
I sat down at my bed, and carefully tore open the flap. This one I wanted to preserve for posterity, to memorialize. My fingers twitched and foot tapped in anticipation as I gently pulled out the two pieces of paper the envelope contained.
The first sheet was the actual letter, while the second was a map. I forced myself to ignore the map until I had the context of it, and set it down on my bedside table with the envelope, still in almost pristine condition.
The letter read:
We are extremely grateful you have accepted our offer. Because of this, we have opened a bank account for you, and placed in it $2000. If you would rather have this money in cash, place the sheet back on your roof sometime after the first mission is complete. Place it up for the number of minutes, out of twenty, corresponding to hundred dollar bills you wish to receive prior to your second mission. Of course, this is all contingent upon the successful completion of the first one.
The map that was also contained in the envelope has three blocks highlighted, which are your potential targets. As this will be your first time engaging in a house burglary, you may wish to attack a forgiving one; a relative, or a favorite teacher. We understand that a number of your teachers live on these blocks, and hope that you are able to pick a satisfactory location.
The previously mentioned $2000 is not part of your payment for the first burglary. You shall drop off any valuables taken at 4821 Tanger St. Do not keep anything that you take. That is why we are paying you. We shall know if you profit directly from anything stolen. Your mission specific payment will be determined based off the value of the goods you stole.
We hope to receive your delivery tomorrow if possible. Best of luck on your first mission. Remember that we are not to be implicated if you are caught. We will back that up with threats if necessary; anything you can imagine. Fortune favors the bold.
Right Man Industries
I glanced at the map as soon as I was finished, but managed to restrain my gaze and go over the letter one more time. No use having misread something. After confirming the details, I put it down and picked up the map.
The map showed a few streets in between Jacoby and my houses, the area with a little bit of industry. One warehouse was marked. That would be the drop off point. There were other two street sections highlighted, one closer to mine, one more near his. I knew that my English teacher lived in one; we had a party at her house at the end of the previous year. I didn’t bother to check if I knew who lived anywhere else on the streets. She would do just fine. Give her some comeuppance for being such an awful teacher, maybe spray paint some sickle and hammers on her walls. She deserved it for constantly regurgitating the same conservative bullshit this place was full of.
I circled her house on the map. Now all I had to do was wait for Jacoby and Claire to show up. No Ava.
I felt like I’d blown it with her, pushed her too hard. Maybe if her dad was here, and her mom wasn’t so crazy, she would have been willing to join us, but no. It really sucked. I felt like I was missing an arm without her by my side. Maybe we could stop by her house… no, it was too far out of the way. If she wanted to be with us, she would have done something yesterday.
The minutes seemed to tick by at a glacial pace as I checked and rechecked the supplies I’d gathered. Three backpacks, my clothes, a flashlight, the rope, rubber gloves. It seemed like a small list when I thought about it, but there wasn’t anything else I could come up with. We didn’t have any spray paint that I knew of, so that was a no go. It wasn’t something I wanted to do anyway; there was a big difference between stealing and vandalism. One had a purpose, and we’d get something out of it other than mere enjoyment, while the other was pointless.
It felt like I’d been sitting at the window for hours, like a character in a nineteenth century romance novel, when I finally saw Claire come up the path. She had her own backpack on, and hopefully a change of clothes inside of it. The ones she was wearing now wouldn’t do at all; light jeans and a cream colored shirt. She wasn’t inside yet when Jacoby jogged up behind her. He clapped her on the shoulder, and she spun around and almost socked him. That would have been fun to watch, but alas.
I ran down the stairs, and heard the knock on the door before it opened. I guessed my parents hadn’t locked it.
“Hey Elie,” Jacoby said.
“Hey. Want to come upstairs?” I asked them, as they walked farther into the house.
Claire said, “Yeah, we can talk up there. Are your parents around?”
“Yeah. I’ve barely seen them all day though. I think they’re ignoring me, still mad about everything. I don’t give a shit.”
They both frowned at that, but followed me up to my room. Jacoby and I took the bed, while Claire pulled my desk chair over so we were seated in a vaguely circular shape. I shut the door, making sure it was tight. It wouldn’t due to have my parents overhear anything. If I thought they were mad now, it was nothing compared to how they would be if they listened to even a little of what we were going to say.
When I’d returned to the bed, Jacoby asked, “So, what’s the plan?”
“Well I got the letter back.”
“Nice,” Claire exclaimed, high fiving me. Jacoby was trying to look unhappy about it, but a hint of a grin broke through.
He said, “Okay then. I guess that means were going to rob a house?”
“Yeah, that’s what they told us to do,” I stated, glaring at him. He held up his hands defensively. There would be no lack of enthusiasm for this; we’d made a decision, and we were going to do the best fucking job ever.
“Do you guys want to read the letter? I’ll go get some food from downstairs. Make sure you look at the map too.”
Claire scooted closer to Jacoby as I handed him the pieces of paper from my bedside table. I grabbed snacks from downstairs, and when I returned, they were finished reading, looking up expectantly.
“So, what do you think?” I asked, placing the bag of chips on the bed.
Jacoby said, as I sat down with the bag of chips between us, “It’s interesting. It seems real, but we have no way to know. Two thousand dollars is ridiculous for what you did; you haven’t even actually done anything to help them yet. I wouldn’t give them any information, though they do seem to know a scary bit about you.”
Claire looked positively green with envy at the mention of the money. I didn’t know what her problem was. She’d never been so concerned about money before.
She said in response to Jacoby, “I think we need to be careful. They might have alerted the police or something by mail that we’re going to rob one of those houses.”
I agreed. There was some possibility that it was a trap, and we had to be cautious of that. The counterargument to that was that it was hard to imagine how police arresting us could help whoever was sending the contracts. They were much less likely to do it if they didn’t accrue any benefit.
“Yeah, I think so too,” I said. Then I turned so I was facing them both, and continued, “One of these houses is Mrs. Gissard’s, our English teacher. What do you think about her?”
They exchanged worried glances.
Claire said, “I don’t think that’s the best idea. First of all, she doesn’t like me, and doesn’t know Jacoby. Even though she likes you, she still thinks you’re a troublemaker and disruptive. It’s more an affection than admiration.”
Well, I wouldn’t deny that. Still, that wasn’t a reason not to go after her house.
“I know that I hate her, you don’t have to tell me that. She doesn’t hate me, though, and isn’t too strict in her classes. Maybe she’d just see it as us having a rebellious stage, and wanting to rebel against authority; she’s into that bogus psychology stuff. So I still don’t think she’d call the cops if she caught us. Anyone is going to react negatively, and it doesn’t really matter who it is, I don’t think.”
Claire looked slightly put out at my retort. Her eyebrows were furrowed in concentration, but Jacoby broke in and interrupted her train of thought.
“Thinking about it, I think that it’s better if we steal from a bad person like her. Just because of the morality. It’s almost like she deserves it, in a way.”
Claire responded, throwing her arms up in exasperation, “But she’s not bad! As I’ve told Elie, she has to teach that. If she tells us how wrong the lessons and school espoused viewpoint are, she could get fired for injecting politics into her teaching.”
I frowned, but couldn’t think of anything to say. What Claire had said was all technically true, but Mrs. Gissard could still have done a better job. It seemed like every other word out of her mouth was some kind of conservative bullshit, and it was even worse because it was English class. There was pure textual evidence that contradicted her most of the time, but she’d just shut us up until she let us discuss it as a class. So everyone went into the discussions with the wrong idea, and we, those in the right, started at a disadvantage. She could have taught better overall. She just wasn’t a good person.
I knew it was a weak argument, but that didn’t matter. She was the chosen target.
I said, “Doesn’t all the other advantages outweigh the weakness of her moral badness though? Even if she’s not pure evil, she’s not a great teacher, and she won’t call the cops on us. You agree?”
“I guess it doesn’t matter. I just want you to realize that she’s not a bad person,” Claire said. Jacoby just nodded.
I rolled my eyes, and responded, “I know she’s not evil, but she’s not great either. Let’s just keep our own opinions. Did you bring a change of clothes?”
Claire stood up and grabbed her bag from where she’d put it against the wall, and opened it. She pulled out a black hoodie and sweatpants, as well as a ski mask. No gloves.
“That’ll work,” I said. “How about we change after we’re somewhat near her house and its dark, just so we’re not walking around looking incredibly suspicious?”
I turned to Jacoby then, and asked him about his clothes.
He said, confused, “Don’t you think these will work?”
I looked at them critically. He had on a Chicago Bulls shirt, which was black, but had red writing on it. His shorts were dark blue with a yellow stripe down the side. His skin might be dark enough that he didn’t need more covering, but I really had no idea on that front. I’d rather he had full body covering, completely dark clothes, but that couldn’t be helped. I doubted he’d fit in any of mine.
“I guess they work, what do you think, Claire?”
She said, “I think they’re fine. I hope there’s no one looking anyway, since the street lights are pretty light. Though there may not be any by her house.”
Shit. I’d forgotten about those. We could walk through the alley if necessary, but that was just begging to have a dog start barking at us or a trash can kicked, and wake up the whole neighborhood. Well we’d deal with that when it came to it. Hopefully there weren’t any street lights.
“Okay then, that’s settled. I have a backpack for you, Jacoby, and I guess Claire has her own,” I said. “I also have a flashlight, which I hope we don’t need to use, and rope. So we’re ready?”
They both nodded. I let out a breath, and relaxed a little. Now we just needed to be patient until it was evening, then tell my parents we were going to Jacoby’s house or something.
We tried to act normal until it was time to go. We ate some of the chips, but mostly milled around, wishing time would go by faster. My mom came up once to check on me and was surprised to find them there, but seemed okay with it. Grounding didn’t really mean much, and I don’t think they wanted me to not see my friends. My parents probably thought they were a good influence on me. Ha. If they only knew.
At eight o’clock, we shouldered our bags, still in normal clothes, and made our way downstairs. My mom was in the living room watching TV, and for a second I contemplated sneaking past her, but that wasn’t a good idea.
Instead, I said, “We’re going to Claire’s, is that okay?”
She looked up from her show, and scowled at me. “You’re supposed to be grounded, Elie. Give me one good reason to let you go.”
Again, if she only knew, she’d lock me away for years. Thankfully she didn’t read my mail or have a habit of listening at doors. Now I just had to get past her and get out.
I said, “I don’t want to be stuck at the house. I won’t have anything to do since the internet is down, and I’d be less bored with them. Less likely to get up to something troublesome… We’ll just stay in his house and watch a movie or something. I’ll come back and tell you before I go anywhere else, so you know where I am at all times. How does that sound?”
She sighed, and said, “Okay, I guess you can go. Don’t do anything stupid!”
Well that was easier than expected. I rolled my eyes at her last comment, but went over and gave her a hug in thanks. I was a little disappointed that she hadn’t argued. If she had, then I would have felt better about disobeying them and doing something they would completely disapprove of; I could have blamed it on righteous anger. No excuse now. Oh well, I’d already decided what I was going to do.
We left, and walked to Jacoby’s house. We were going to stop there first, and check one more time if we had everything, then come back this way, to Mrs. Gissard’s house. His house would be home base, and we could scout the path we would take back from hers in case we needed to run or make a quick escape later.
His parents were watching a movie when we got there. They said hello, and we went up to his room. I looked in my backpack for the fifth time, and everything, including the change of clothes, was still there. We weren’t going to leave his house looking like that, even without masks on; his parents would know we were up to something.
My nerves were shot already. My stomach ached with nervousness, and I could see Jacoby’s hands shake slightly as he zipped his bag back up. We really were going to do this. I kept running over all the precautions, everything we needed to do. The worst thing would be if she had dogs or anything. Then we’d be screwed, especially if they woke up and started barking after we were already inside. Well, we picked the target for a reason.
We snuck past his parents and left our bags outside the door, before coming back in. Jacoby told his dad we were going to see a movie, and we left the house once again, and shouldered our bags. There was no going back now. Here we go, off on an adventure. I was excited, but the jitters wouldn’t leave. Hopefully it would all be worth it in the end.
I walked at the head of the group, with Jacoby and Claire slightly behind me. He was on my left while she was on my right. I tried to keep my head straight and shoulders back, sure they were silently judging me behind my back. I was the one who had come up with the idea, or at least introduced them to it, so I had to act like I knew what I was doing. Not that I had a clue, but appearances are, most of the time, more important than actions.
I didn’t really know why we were doing this now instead of waiting until later in the night, when people would be more likely to be asleep. Jacoby’s parents might worry if we were out later, but they probably wouldn’t check on us if we told them we were going to bed. Though, they might be more protective since their son Brian had died. This was just easier; it gave us an excuse to be out, and we’d already started. We were all likely to get cold feet if we delayed at this point.
After we had walked a block, the street lights disappeared and the darkness became more complete. The moon was maybe three quarters full overhead, so we could still see reasonably well, but there would be many more shadows for concealment later. There were just two more streets to go before Mrs. Gissards’.
As we were about to turn from the road that goes from Jacoby to my house, onto Mrs. Gissards’ side street, I saw a figure ahead of us. My adrenaline spiked. If it was a stranger, we were fine. We weren’t dressed up yet, so they would just think we were walking home. If it was someone we knew though, that would be a problem. We didn’t look naturally suspicious, but no one trusts teenagers when they are out of their “designated areas,” namely school, home, and malls. A person that knew us would know we weren’t normally in this neighborhood at this time of night. If it came down to it we could just say we were walking from Jacoby’s to my house.
The person got closer, and I stopped at the corner. I debated whether to turn and walk away, but thought it might be someone who it would be better to use an excuse on than to avoid. They were silhouetted against the moonlight in the background, it glinting off and lightening the pavement. Their long hair and hood formed an inspired halo around their head. I couldn’t recognize them yet, and when I saw the sweatshirt hood up, almost started walking away. Meeting strangers, when it was dark at night was creepy. The straps of a bag which emerged from the darkness just scared me further. Who knew what was in there.
I was about to bolt, when the voice said, “I hope I’m not too late.”
Fuck yes! I knew she’d come around. Not really, my hope had faded throughout the day. This was better than anything else that had happened today, even receiving the letter. The group just didn’t feel whole without her. Hell, I didn’t feel whole without her. I ran up to her, and tried to give her a hug, welcoming her back.
She gently restrained my arms. “I’m coming with you guys because I thought you could do with the help, not because I agree with what you’re doing. I don’t; I still think it’s stupid and likely to get us all incarcerated, but seeing my mom at home… I couldn’t do anything for her. She doesn’t seem like she’ll be better until my dad comes back. I feel like shit, inadequate, but what the hell. I don’t want to lose you too.”
I was touched; I knew I’d treated her badly before. She deserved better. Especially when hurting her just hurt me too. Just then, I realized how screwed we were without her. She, if anyone, could persuade Mrs. Gissard not to call the cops on us if necessary. Hell, she could fucking convince anyone who saw us at any point tonight not to report us.
I said in a rush, “Oh Ava, I’m so sorry. I shouldn’t have pressured you before. When we have differences, I don’t need to push you guys around.”
I turned to back to Claire and Jacoby, and apologized to them too. They didn’t deserve it as much as her though, since they’d fallen prey to some of my more questionable persuasion tactics. If you lose, then that should suck for you. But Ava brought out the best in me.
She smiled at my apologies, and said, “Thanks for that. I’m still a little pissed at you though, so don’t go expecting anything close to normal treatment from me. I’ll still give this my all though. We’re going to be careful, but still do the best we can, right?”
I nodded, and she came over to stand by us. She was already wearing her dark clothes, but somehow, when she removed her hood, didn’t look suspicious at all. Or maybe it was that she just looked so pretty that no one would suspect her of anything. Either one.
I felt much better now that she was here, and some of my nerves were gone. We walked together down the block, until we came to the house next to Mrs. Gissards’. Now Claire and I needed to change. It seemed like a worse idea now, since we’d be exposing so much skin for a bit of time, but there was a large hedge between this house and the Mrs. Gissards’ so that should shield us somewhat. There were also trees lining the streets, and none of the adjacent houses had their lights on. Oh screw it, I was a little uncomfortable changing in such a public spot.
I turned to Ava and said, “Will you keep guard? Just go to the edge of this hedge and look down the road that way.” I pointed the opposite of the way we had come.
Now I had to strip. It would be too awkward ordering Jacoby away, when he’d seen me in those type of clothes so much before, and I shouldn’t mind if he saw again. Claire’d be changing too.
No time like the present. It was a little chilly, but I didn’t have a jacket on since I didn’t want to have to leave it somewhere when we went inside. I reached down, and in one quick motion, pulled my t-shirt over my head. Much colder without that on. I pulled out the long sleeve shirt and put it on. Claire wasn’t changing yet, but was a little shyer about her body than I was. Now I had to finish up. Jeans unbuckled, and pulled down. Jacoby tried to make it look like he wasn’t staring, but failed miserably. I was glad it was dark so he didn’t see the flower pattern on my underwear. Feeling much more awkward than I would have about this a week ago, I quickly picked up the pants.
After those were on, I grabbed Jacoby and walked away so Claire could change. She flashed me a grateful glance as I looked back over my shoulder. We went to stand by Ava and wait for her to finish.
I just wanted get to the show on the road, but I guessed Claire had other ideas as she took forever, giving us time to talk.
Great, more time for Ava to be mad at me.
“You purposefully made me miss the show,” Ava accused me, hands on her hips.
I said, “It’s too dark to see anything anyway. It’s not like you missed something new, I haven’t grown a third boob or anything.”
She laughed, while Jacoby looked startled.
She said, “I’m glad of that. Your brain might need to be fixed, but you look good the way you are.”
I pretended to bask in the praise, but Jacoby ruined my preening, starting to pick at my hair.
He said, “I don’t think she looks that good, I mean, look at this scraggly mess.”
I shoved him away, then tried to reach his head to rub it; he hated when people did that.
Claire chose that moment to finish and practically yell, “Be quiet!”
We froze. I straightened out my hair, and then we hid our bags in the bushes. Composed once again, some of the nerves from before were gone. We were all together, and we were having fun. That, if not quite the whole point, was at least a good side effect. And it was go time.