Mrs. Gissard lived on the other side of the hedge, which was a dark mass to our left. An unlit house was to the right. Before leaving our bags and rounding the hedge, I made sure everyone had gloves on. Ava had brought some winter ones, dark, from home, but no one else had any. I took out the box of rubber ones I’d brought and passed it around. We all took a pair. It looked funny; being almost invisible in the shadow except for our hands and heads. Seeing Claire’s face stand out so much reminded me to put the face masks on. Claire and Ava both had ski masks from home, and donned them, but Jacoby and I had to do with t-shirt improvising. I had brought a few darker shirts, just in case.
I put the shirt on my head so the hem was resting on my shoulders, then lined the head hole up with my eyes. The sleeves got stretched back, then tied behind my head. I had checked it out in a mirror before, and it looked like a mix between a ninja head covering and a turban. If we got caught at least we’d look stylish and functional. Jacoby put his on as well, and we were set.
I, as the unofficial leader of the mission, told them to be quiet, then peeked around the hedge to see if Mrs. Gissards’ porch light was on. It was. Still, it was unlikely that was up to see us around 10:30 at night. Old people go to bed early. The only houses with lights on downstairs were on the opposite side of the street, or a few hundred feet away up or down. That was too far away to see people in this lighting.
I motioned the other three out behind me, and towards her house. We huddled against the wall on the side, sheltered from view.
Going in the front door would be too noticeable, and the back may be unlocked anyways. It would also be a good way to check if she had an animal; there’d most likely be a dish, or at least shit in the yard. Not that I was going to examine the yard too carefully for dog shit.
I whispered back to them, “Let’s go in the back. Follow me, and don’t run into anything.”
I didn’t see whether they nodded back or not. As long as we stuck to the shadows along the side of the house we were pretty much invisible. The moon shone brightly farther out towards the hedge on our left. The good aspect of the illumination was that it lit up the ground under our feet, revealing any objects in our way.
The space between the hedge and the house was maybe five feet wide, and we made it down the length of it quickly. Everything going good so far. I felt in command of the situation. They all crouched down against the side of the steps leading up to the backdoor, while I ducked over against the side fence. From there I slid farther back into the yard, checking for any signs of an animal. I didn’t want to stray into the middle of it since there could be people looking down from other houses, and it was light out there. I didn’t see any blatant signs of a dog, but that didn’t mean there wasn’t something there.
When I got back next to them, I told Claire, probably the quietest of us, “Pull yourself up so you’re on the top stair, then look in the window in the door. See what room it is and if there’s any dogs.”
The stairs went up to chest level from the ground, made of cement. The railing was a classic style, with two horizontal bars, more functional than aesthetic. Claire pulled herself onto the top step directly from the ground, needing a boost up from Jacoby. It was too light to just walk up the stairs. This required less movement in the light: less chance someone would see us.
After plastering herself against the door and peering in the window, she whispered down to me, “I don’t see anyone. It looks like a kitchen. Do you want me to try the handle?”
It was nice they were deferring to me already for decisions, even though out of anyone in the town, I’d trust their judgment the most.
I didn’t think that there was any reason not to open the door; I didn’t know of any burglar alarms that were tied to door handles, only to the door opening. And we would have a huge problem either way if one went off. The only option would be to run; call it a botched job. Well we wouldn’t leave any evidence at the scene, so hopefully we’d be safe.
“Yeah, go ahead. Be ready to get down here fast if an alarm goes off though.”
Claire tensed, then turned the handle. The door swung open, and no blaring commenced. We were in!
I said in a rush, “Okay guys, Jacoby then Ava. Do what Claire did and get in there fast. I’ll be last.”
They followed my order, Ava frowning, but not offering any verbal dispute. I’d bet I got chewed out at the end by her; doing exactly what she got mad at me for in the first place.
Once they were up and in, I grabbed the cement lip, and jumped. I almost hit my head on the metal railing, but managed to grab it with my right hand and duck under. Then I swung my leg up, wrapping it around the pole of the railing, and slithered through and stood up.
I shut the door behind me as fast as I could, hoping desperately that no one saw us. We had to get the stuff we wanted, and get out the same way we came in. The back door seemed like it afforded the best access to the shadows and the spot we stashed our stuff.
I could hear everyone’s breathing, the house was so silent. My heart was going a million miles per hour, and my arms shaking. I couldn’t stop it, but took a few deep breaths to calm myself down. That didn’t work completely, but at least it made me think clearer. We needed to get on with the thievery part before someone woke up or something else disastrous happened.
A computer would probably be in an office, and phones would also be good. TV’s were too big. Any jewelry, as long as it didn’t look like an heirloom, could probably be sold by our employer for money. I thought wedding rings, and realized I’d forgotten that Mrs. Gissard was a ‘Mrs.’, as in she was married. Shit. That put a big damper on our catch and release idea if we got found out by her. My adrenaline spiked; this was all or nothing. We could go to fucking jail, there was no safety net anymore.
Now that we were inside there was less of a need for visual stealth, but noise would be even worse than before. If we bumped anything it might wake Mrs. Gissard and her husband up, which would ruin the whole operation.
The kitchen was small. Almost everything in it was white. There was a marble peninsula above and behind the stove straight ahead, while the dining room table was barely visible beyond that. The left front corner of the kitchen opened into the rest of the house. Ava, Claire, and Jacoby waited, still, while I listened to check if anyone was up or moving. Nothing. It was clear to go ahead.
Before I spoke, Ava said, voice shaky but resolute, “Don’t even think of ordering me around. You’re being bossy. I can do this on my own. We need to get out of here quickly, before we get caught.”
I was a bit miffed by her unexpected attitude, but this wasn’t the time for arguing. It didn’t matter if she decided where to go or I told her, as long as we all coordinated and did this as efficiently as possible.
“Okay, fine. But I’m going to look in the dining room, then the living room, and Jacoby and Claire are going to check the basement.”
I turned to them. “Be careful when opening the door, and you can turn on a light down there. She have any kids, Claire?”
“No, she doesn’t,” Claire said.
“Okay then. So you guys do that, and go first. Just in case there’s an animal or something down there, or you trip on something and make noise, we want to be able to make a quick escape.”
I turned back to Ava, having forced her into a corner. This wasn’t the time or place for a mutiny, not when you could get the cops called on you any moment for being too loud. It irritated me, but I was going to try to tone down the bossiness around her. I didn’t think I’d been acting too much different than normal, but what did I know? No one’s ever good at evaluating themselves.
I said to her, “So what are you going to do? Want to try going upstairs?”
She glared at me, crossing her arms. “No, we don’t have time to go upstairs. You guys seem to have the first floor covered, so I’ll look around in here.”
Oh, come on. There wouldn’t be anything worth stealing in the kitchen. Why’d she come along if she didn’t want to participate? An extra person just increased the chance we would be caught. Whatever, I couldn’t deal with that now. I started for the dining room table, and Claire and Jacoby followed me out of the kitchen, looking pissed off at both me and Ava for our disagreement. They had a right to be. At least they hadn’t joined in.
I motioned them towards a door that looked like it could be to a basement. I placed a hand on the polished wood of the table, and tensed, ready to flee. Jacoby reached for the handle, and turned it. The door creaked much too loudly as it opened, and I almost ran out, but everyone else froze. I listened, and the silence persisted; no one moving around upstairs. I motioned for them to go down the steps, not daring to speak.
The table was placed on a rug in the middle of the room, only the peninsula separating it from the kitchen. There was window on the left that looked out to the front street, but thankfully the blinds were shut so no one could see in. They probably wouldn’t be able to anyway, but better safe than sorry. Four placemat settings punctuated the table, but no nice centerpiece. I moved over to the wood tower shelves in the corner of the room.
A cordless phone. Ridiculous that an old phone was something to celebrate over finding, but it would probably be worth something. I reached down to the outlet, and unplugged it, careful to untangle the cord before picking the whole thing up. . The gloves didn’t seem to hinder my dexterity at all.
It went in the kitchen, on the counter, next to a few things that Ava had scrounged for. Her mask made her facial expressions harder to read, but I could still see her annoyance when I dumped the phone and attached cords on top of her pile of shit. Well, it’s not like she’d found anything worthwhile. Just a few knives, a thing of pepper spray, and a heavy duty flashlight in the drawers. At least she’d been quiet while doing it; I hadn’t noticed her making noise from the dining room. Maybe she was gathering supplies for future missions. I grudgingly admitted that could be useful, at some point in the far future.
Treading lightly, I walked through what would be the front entrance, and into the living room, where carpet dampened my footfalls once again. Jacoby and Claire were still down in the basement, but there hadn’t been any big crashes from the stairwell yet. Time seemed to be passing extremely slowly as I moved carefully around the living room, trying not to disturb anything. There was an almost surreal quality to the whole situation.
The beige couch sat against the far wall, while a TV was in the corner. The fireplace was directly across from me. The TV looked too big to take, but maybe they had a small DVD player or computer near it. A quick glance around the room revealed nothing else of interest, though I made a mental note to check under the couches and examine more closely the items on the mantle.
The TV sat on a square table, with a shelf underneath. A black indistinct object clarified into a satellite box as I bent down, but next to it was a gray smaller cube. Was that a Wii? Mrs. Gissard seriously had a Wii? I almost broke out laughing, but then remembered the situation. An almost disastrous outburst averted. Thank God, but that didn’t change the fact that teachers and video games don’t mix. Waving the white phallic shaped remote, pretending to be athletic… Jesus that was a bad image. Got to get going, distract myself.
I leaned down further to examine the Wii’s connections in more detail. There were two things going out the back to up towards the TV, and one leading to an outlet. I thought about trying to get the cords too, but they seemed like they’d be too much of a hassle. I couldn’t bother with every tiny attachment and accessory today. Besides, getting behind the TV would probably made a lot of noise. Instead, I pulled all the plugs out of the back, and picked it up. Surprisingly light.
I didn’t want to go back to the kitchen with only one thing, so I checked the mantle. Her family pictures absorbed me; it was so strange seeing her outside of school. I tore my attention away from those and examined the rest of the objects on the shelf. There were two elephants that when I picked up were heavy, so those would come with. Other than that, it just seemed like a random assortment of knickknacks. I was disappointed there weren’t any rare looking crystals or foreign objects. The elephants were nice, but they were metal, not ivory or similar.
My arms ached with relief when I put the things back down in the kitchen. It had been load to carry. Ava was opening food cabinets now, having collected a stash of more useful items. A lot of the stuff she’d found seemed like it might be useful in the future, though I hoped we’d never have to use the knife. That thing was scary; 12” long, and pretty thick. Not a cleaver, but it could definitely stab and hack someone brutally.
The haphazard assortment of goodies covered the counter, and I didn’t know how we were going to get it outside. Maybe it would have been a good idea to bring our backpacks in. I couldn’t remember why I’d decided against it; maybe the increase in visibility? It wouldn’t have been that major, and they would definitely be helpful getting stuff out of the house. It was surprising how much random shit people had that might sell for something. It reminded me of an RPG game; only a certain amount of weight you can carry, so you have to maximize dollars per pound carried. The elephants probably wouldn’t make the cut if I was on my own, but as a group, we’d manage as long as Claire and Jacoby didn’t find too much in the basement.
Ava decided to say at that moment, quietly, “I’m sorry for what I said earlier. Just nerves. It is a little relaxing now though, right? We’re just hanging out here, and there’s food if we want, and nothing else on the ground floor to cover.”
I leaned over with a hand on the counter, picking up something that had fallen. We were full of apologies today. Must be the stress.
“It’s not bad being here. I’m sorry too, I didn’t mean to be so demanding. This worked out fine though. Maybe next time we can split up and get the second floor too. You could do that, since you can stay so quiet,” I said. Complements always helped strained relationships.
She smiled, but it twisted into a grimace as I finished.
“When I said this was fun, I didn’t mean I’d want to do it again. It’s way too stressful! I can’t handle the thought that we could be found out. We’d probably get out of here in time, but still. I’ll have to think about it before agreeing to do anything more.”
I was disappointed that she hadn’t come around yet, but there was still time. We wouldn’t do anything else until the next weekend, simply because school took up the week. No ditching school just because we’d going to have a little money.
Speaking of, I still had no idea how much it would be, or if it would actually come. Just because they responded to my sheet flying on the roof didn’t mean they’d mail hundred dollar bills. There was still the question of why someone was doing this in the first place. But, it didn’t seem like it would matter too much, especially if the people weren’t giving us specific targets. It’s not like we were robbing heirlooms or treasure, just assorted household items. That wasn’t an indicator of a united strategy, one that could potentially harm people. It was more a strategy of a group that just wants some money or certain generic items. I couldn’t see how there would be a macro-scale damage as a result.
Ava and I were still lounging around the kitchen, trying not to move too much, getting tenser as the minutes passed. I glanced at my watch at least three times for every 100 seconds. It was still only 10:45, but felt much later. The constant tension had exhausted my stamina, and a bed would feel good.
But damn, I had to spend the night at Jacoby’s. That didn’t lend itself to a good night’s sleep, since he had only one spare, and Claire always got it. Where did I sleep? Mostly on an air mattress on the floor, as I hadn’t actually shared Jacoby’s bed since he was younger. Maybe we’d do it again soon, but not today. The external emotional turmoil was almost as great as that other time we’d almost done something. It was easy to do something one or both of us would regret.
I thought about texting Claire to see what they were doing down there, but remembered phones weren’t working. The general shittiness of the situation seemed all the more prominent when we were in a stranger’s house, and I couldn’t even steal their Wi-Fi. If I wanted to know what was going on, I’d actually have to go down to the basement myself. That wasn’t a welcome thought. It was darker than the rest of the house, and probably damp and full of cobwebs.
I glanced at Ava, checking whether she seemed in enough of a positive mood so I could get her to go down, but she was busy looking through everything under the sink for the fifth time. Maybe she’d fine something good down there, but really, who keeps anything valuable under the sink?
It wasn’t worth wakening Mrs. Gissard and her husband by yelling, so there was nothing to do but to go down alone.
I said to Ava, “I need to check on Claire and Jacoby. They shouldn’t have been down there that long. I don’t want them to get up to too much mischief.”
“I think you’re just jealous. I wouldn’t interrupt them having sex if I were you.” She smirked at me, but her eyes betrayed the worry she felt.
I admit that I’d thought of that, but they couldn’t be stupid enough to actually do it in a house they were in the process of burglarizing, could they? No, I picked my friends carefully. They weren’t idiots. I was scared they’d simultaneously slipped or something just as outlandish; there didn’t seem to be any rational reason why they were down there for so long. Still, I was sure it was noting.
The door to the basement was a dark wood, with a metal knob handle. It was next to the staircase going upstairs, one which I would never touch. Up was too risky, but down was fine. The door hadn’t been shut completely when they descended into the depths, so I opened it, making sure it didn’t squeak this time. The light was on, which was a good sign. There were also slight scuffling noises coming from below, which wasn’t, probably.
The air got colder as I made my way down the steps. They went down a little, at which point there was a door leading outside, then made a U-turn and descended some more. At the bottom, there were three rooms leading off from the main part. I leant against the wall, trying to still the creaking in the floorboards, listening. The center room, the one ahead, had a light on, but the room itself bent to the left. I couldn’t see more than a sofa and a lamp from this vantage point. The noise was coming from that room.
I attempted to stay against the wall, where I’d heard the floor made less noise, as I made my way around the perimeter, trying to approach that entryway. None of the offshoot rooms had doors, just openings. I made it to the edge of it, and tried to work up the never to go in. It was most likely just Jacoby and Claire. It didn’t make any sense for it to be someone else. That didn’t help me be any less scared.
I almost yelped in fright when a covered head appeared right in front of mine.
“Hey Elie, we’re almost done down here,” Claire said, grinning at my discomfort.
“Jesus, you scared me half to death,” I exclaimed, leaning away from her.
She invited me in, saying, “Come see what we’ve done.”
That tone made me apprehensive. I walked into their room.
How the hell had they done that?
Before I had time to think there was a loud crash from upstairs. We all froze in place, Claire and I near the entrance, Jacoby in the process of moving a couch.
I stayed still, and the seconds passed. Then, I faintly heard feet clomping on the stairs above us, going from the second to first floors. Shit! Someone awake, we needed to get out of here… Ava better run quick.