— 4 —
Jacquline sat on her knees in front of a double set of French doors. She took in a breath as she twisted the hairpins around inside the lock. It had taken her six months to perfect the skill, but then again, that was a little over ten years ago and her mother wasn’t about to let her give up.
“That’s it, sweetie,” Gloria whispered into Jacquline’s ear. “Concentrate.”
Jacquline was eight, and for whatever reason, the lock just wouldn’t make that special sound. “Keep your hands steady and breathe. You’ll get it.”
After hours of trying, all Jacquline wanted to do was kick the door in. “I can’t,” Jacquline screamed.
It wasn’t clear if the memory had slipped from her lips or remained a daydream, but either way, it didn’t seem to disrupt the make-out session between Jay and Harlet, the two teenage crooks who hired Jacquline to help plan the score. Both were strapped in black leather and had more holes in their bodies than a sponge. They remained clutched in an unbreakable embrace, swallowing each other’s tongues.
Jacquline couldn’t watch them for more than a second, resorting to staring at the brand new placemat under her feet that shouted, “Wel—me.” She closed her eyes and pictured her mother kneeling down in front of their own front door, showing her how it was done. She watched carefully, trying hard to find that key to understanding what she was doing wrong.
What was it?
“Damn tongue twisters,” Jacquline whispered. She stood in frustration and pealed Harlet away from Jay. Harlet whimpered, trying desperately to reattach herself to him like a leach, but Jacquline wouldn’t have it. She stood between their heated bodies.
“What the hell?” Harlet said, attempting to look through Jacquline to keep a scintillating gaze on Jay.
“You two sex pistols are supposed to be helping me,” Jacquline said.
“We did our part,” Jay said. “I should be asking you why we aren’t already in this damn place. It’s been ten minutes already. I thought you were supposed to be one of the best.”
“Correction. I am the best. But when all I can hear are the squirt of bodily fluids flowing from one diseased mouth to the other while your tongues train for the Olympics, it’s a little hard to concentrate. Besides, you two jack-offs are supposed to be making sure no one’s watching. I’m not about to go to prison for you.”
“I told you. Everyone around here is either on vacation or a night owl, so shut your damn mouth and get your ass back to work so we can get the goods already.” Jay shoved Jacquline out of the way and pulled Harlet back to his chest.
For a second, Jacquline thought about walking away. It was never her nature to give anyone else the lead on a job. She preferred to work alone; it minimized the risk and kept the unexpected at bay. But the potential score on this job was far too much to pass up. Not only was the community a paradise, but all of the houses along the street were shrouded in fences, trees and exotic plant life. Should this job work out, it could lead to a cavalcade of riches. For that alone, Jacquline was going to have to suck it up and deal with the inevitable chaos when it arrived.
“I’m not going to jail,” she repeated with a softer, distant tone.
“And we do?” Jay snapped back. “You need to stop being such a pussy and just do what we hired you to do.”
Jacquline took a breath. “I want sixty-five.”
“Hell no. The deal was thirty.”
“The way I see it, without me, you’ve got nothing but pictures of a gorgeous mansion that might help you jack off a little and get to sleep at night. If this place is worth as much as you say it is, I want two-thirds. That’s it, that’s final.”
Jay looked about ready to take a swing at Jacquline, but he gave in rather quickly. “Fine. Just get me in there.”
Jacquline searched for any sign of deception as Harlet returned to suck Jay’s tongue like a Popsicle. It wasn’t something she was used to, but if she was going to make this happen, she would have to trust them. This place was capable of ten times more than she would ever take in on her own, so even though she couldn’t escape the thought of being arrested, for sixty-five percent of the take, it was well worth the risk.
Never run from a major opportunity; you’ll never get it back.
“Never,” Jacquline whispered and pierced the hairpins back into the lock. After a few more failed attempts, Jacquline once again stopped and took in a long, deep breath. She pushed all noise from her mind and cleared her thoughts, allowing just one to creep back in — the first time Gloria let her pick the lock of someone else’s house. It wasn’t their first job together, but it was the first time Gloria trusted Jacquline enough to take point. Nothing gave her more of a thrill than hearing that first click. That one single thought gave her precisely what she needed to make it happen again.
“You got it?” Harlet said.
Jacquline hadn’t heard their lips come apart. “Did you have any doubt?”
“Yeah, kind of.”
Jacquline ignored her as she removed the pins. Harlet instantly reached across Jacquline’s shoulder to open the door, but Jacquline was quick to slap her hand away.
“What the hell?” Harlet squealed, rubbing her hand.
“What did I tell you? We need to be cautious or else we’re all screwed.”
“Just hurry up,” Jay chimed in.
“Just wait. I don’t know what kind of alarm system they have. I need to get ready for whatever’s waiting for us on the other side.”
Jacquline pulled a small felt pouch from her laptop bag and sorted through numerous wire cutters and an assortment of screwdrivers, powders and brushes. The whole package was the last thing she remembered of her mother and it was the only thing, aside from Tracey, that she cherished enough to die for.
* * *
“Jacquline,” Gloria whispers, waking Jacquline from her fairytale.
“What… what is it?” Jacquline moans, trying to find a glimpse of her mother through the dark of the room.
“I want to give you something,” Gloria says quietly.
“A present?” Jacquline’s tired eyes light up with anticipation.
Gloria’s warm hand grabs Jacquline’s wrist and something soft and fuzzy lands in her palm. “What is it?” Jacquline asks, pulling it close enough to make out its shape.
“It’s a very special gift. Keep it with you no matter where you go.”
Jacquline holds the gift to her chest. “It’s beautiful,” she says.
Only silence answers.
Jacquline suddenly feels cold.
* * *
“You all right?” Harlet said.
Jacquline shook away the memory. “I’m fine.” She had to be. Over the years, Jacquline had dealt with small country homes and track homes, most of which were some of the easiest places to break into because most of them don’t have alarms (unless you count the dogs, which Jacquline found out the hard way worked just as well). This was a far cry from those toy boxes; this was the big time. Her performance here had to be perfect. She strapped the pouch to the outside of her laptop bag and curled her fingers around the door handle.
Harlet held onto Jay’s arm and bounced with the joy of a girl being felt up for the first time. “Open the shit up already,” she said. Jacquline held up her other hand to quiet Harlet and cracked the door open.
Pillars of highly decorated wood crafted by hand lined the endless foyer. On the left, long leather couches with gold rims and oak finishings filled the majority of the living room, leaving very little room for the elegantly shaped glass coffee tables. Down the hall a ways, on the edge of one of the stairwells, was a small table with a porcelain lamp and some vases that most likely came from a foreign country. In the den to the right were a couple of computers and dozens of books lining elegantly handcrafted bookshelves.
Harlet’s eyes beamed as she squeezed her head around the doorframe to get her first glimpse. “What are you waiting for?” she said, her voice cutting through the silence. “There’s no alarm.”
“It might be silent,” Jacquline said quickly, keeping Harlet from bullying her way through the door.
“Why would you think that?”
“Because these rich bastards always have shit like that. Give me a second. Let me make sure.” Jacquline reached into one of the powders and threw the contents into the house. As it settled to the floor, a thin blue beam strung across from the door hinge to the living room filtered out the powder. “You see that?”
Jacquline grabbed a flashlight from her bag and searched the house. Hanging on the wall below the second stairwell at the end of the foyer was a small black box. “Bingo,” she whispered.
“What? What is it?”
“The security panel. Give me a minute to disarm it.”
Jacquline tossed more powder into the house and examined the checkerboard pattern of the beams. She stepped over the first beam into the space she could make out as safe, her heart racing faster than a bullet in a hurricane. Once settled, she tossed more powder out and took another cautious step forward. More powder gave way to more beams and shakier, breathless steps. It was three long minutes before Jacquline took her last step in front of the control panel, finally able to let out a breath. She looked to Jay and Harlet, who bounced about as if she hadn’t taken a piss for days. If it weren’t for Jay, she probably would have already triggered the alarm. Jacquline held up her index finger, hoping it would be enough to keep them from entering for another few minutes, and pulled a Phillips screwdriver from her bag. The four small screws on the cover of the control box were out in seconds. Jacquline’s first thought was that the rest would be a piece of cake, but the wires connecting the panel to the deep recesses of the wall were quite overwhelming. Undeterred, she allowed the panel to dangle against the wall by its veins and shoved the flashlight between her teeth, allowing the freedom of her hands to dissect the various connections. Focusing her eyes through the building sweat on her brow, Jacquline knew there was only one way to disable this intricate of a system. She grabbed Gloria’s favorite pair of wire cutters (the ones she never went anywhere without) and stripped the colored plastic from three different wires, exposing the copper underneath. After resting the cutters along the front end of the first wire, she closed her eyes and cut, letting out a long, overdue breath when nothing happened. She repeated the process with the second wire and then tied both to the center of the third. When she was through, she tucked them as deep as she could into the wall and gently rested the teeth of the wire cutters around a long black wire. She gave Jay and Harlet a wink and turned her head away from the control panel. Sparks flew from inside the box as she squeezed the handles of the wire cutters together. Jacquline let out a small squeak of pain and pulled her hand to her chest. “God damn it.”
But the pain was well worth it.
The beams were no longer evident as she tossed a bit more powder into the room. “God, I’m good,” Jacquline mused through gritted teeth. She wanted to flex the fingers on her numbed hand but she was afraid her arm would seize up if she did. At least it was only temporary.
Jay and Harlet giggled as they leapt hand in hand up the stairs.
“Where are you going?” Jacquline said.
“I’ve never had sex in a rich-bitch bed before,” Harlet said and the two thieves rounded the hallways to finally consummate their excitement.
Jacquline sucked up her residual pain and checked for the wire cutters. When they weren’t on the floor as expected, she realized there was only one place they could be. “Damn it,” she whispered. So much for that heirloom, she thought. “Sorry, mom.” No time to dwell on it now; she had a house to clean out.
Choosing to stay downwind of the fleshy affair, Jacquline walked to the table at the edge of the stairwell and examined one of the vases, admiring its hand-painted roses resting against the bright blue background. If she was lucky, it might net her a couple hundred dollars, but Jacquline wasn’t sure if that was enough to go through the hassles of authentication, not to mention the headaches of coming up — and maintaining — a believable story of how she acquired the vase in the first place. She decided the best thing she could do was stick to the essential currencies — silver, gold and of course the most easily attained, and obvious, green. Since most people are sheep and cling to their clichés, if there was a safe in the house, it was more than likely hidden in the master bedroom, where Harlet moaned for Jay to go harder. It would have to wait.
In the meantime, Jacquline made her way to the kitchen, where she figured she’d find some nice silver that she could pawn off quite easily. It was at least three times the size of Jacquline’s bedroom and probably cost more than her house. Elegant, hand-carved shelving and cupboard doors with gold ringlets lined the walls and the faucet was in the shape of a swan, highlighted in silver. The refrigerator, kept hidden within the cupboards, held nothing but vintage wine, caviar and other foods that made Jacquline gag.
“Rich bastards,” she whispered to herself. “Don’t they ever eat anything normal?” She looked through the cupboards for any type of trash bag. When she came up empty, she headed back. Harlet called out for God as if He were the one beneath her. Jacquline was a bit surprised Jay was able to even go this long.
“Five minutes,” she said, “and then I’m coming up.”
“Come join us,” Harlet called back.
An awkward chill flowed through Jacquline’s skin. “I’m fine, thanks.” She quickly rounded the stairwell to a small hallway on the east side. A key rack hung next to the door at the end of the hall and another chill (this one pure excitement) washed over her. Jacquline wasted no time unlocking the door and switching on the light, one that not only lit up the room, but her entire soul as well. A brand new model Corvette and a bright blue Rolls Royce were parked together as the perfect couple. She was immediately drawn to the burnt-orange ’Vette like a magnet and caressed its body with the touch of a lover, completely overwhelmed by its majestic aura. Even better were the accessories hidden inside — stick shift, leather seats, MP3 and a state-of-the-art stereo system with navigation screen; everything she ever wanted in a car. Lying against it, her chest pushed up against the window as her cheek rested against the cold metal of the roof, making her flesh fill with goose bumps.
She didn’t know how long she was there when she finally found the will to pull away and walk to the rear of the car to unscrew the license plate. If she could only take one thing from this house, there was no question in her mind that this car was it. No cash value could compare to what this baby was worth to her. As the plate hit the concrete, Jacquline thought she heard the light squeal of sirens. She became completely still and waited until she was able to confirm the increase in volume with each passing second.
“Damn it,” she said under her breath. Without another thought, she rushed back into the house and made a beeline for the front door. Before she reached the edge of the stairwell, two squad cars pulled up to the driveway.
“Shit.” Jacquline immediately ran to the door and locked it shut. Demands to open it went unanswered and Jacquline knew it wouldn’t be long until they took it into their own hands. She had to think fast. Her first thought:
What’s Ken going to do to me when he finds out I was arrested?
Then she thought of Tracey and knew that wasn’t an option. “What the hell,” she said and started back to the garage.
“What the hell’s going on?” Jay called out, standing in the buff halfway down the stairs, Harlet curled up behind him.
“You’re screwed,” Jacquline said. She rushed down the hall without concern or remorse as the front door splintered open. Jay and Harlet rushed back up the stairs with a couple of cops in pursuit. One officer caught site of Jacquline grabbing the keys off the rack.
“Stop there,” he called out.
“Make me,” Jacquline said, flipping him the bird. She ignored any further pleas as she flew through the door and into the car. The smell of the leather and her tight grip on the wheel was enough to entice her to get lost in the moment. If only it could have lasted for more than a few seconds.
The cop tore open the door and made instant eye contact with Jacquline, who froze for a split second before smiling. The thrill of hitting that ignition button and hearing the engine roar to life — to take in its soothing vibration and absorb its complete essence — was more sexually gratifying than a night of drunken promiscuity. With her hand rested gently on the wheel, Jacquline cocked her head ever so slightly, sent the cop a wishful kiss, and threw the car into reverse.
The cop aimed his firearm at Jacquline as the Corvette ripped through the garage door, leaving an array of wood flying about.
The car wasn’t in reverse for long.
After taking out the metal fence, the Corvette found the back end of one of the squad cars. Jacquline smashed her head against the steering wheel and it took a moment to catch her breath (and her senses), but once she had, she shifted the car into gear and slammed on the gas. The tires squealed as the Corvette spun around the back of the squad car and away from the house.
The cop started firing. With only three rounds, he found the rear tire, forcing the car to fishtail. Jacquline tightened her grip on the steering wheel in a vain attempt to keep the car from flipping. After rolling over a hundred yards, the car parked itself on its side against another large metal fence.
Faint sounds of footsteps pounded toward her. Though Jacquline’s entire body ached and she could taste the blood pouring from her nose, she found enough strength to crawl out of the front window and sit against the hood. Her breaths were erratic as the cop asked her to move different parts of her body, all of which felt slightly numb. Soon, a second cop was standing in front of her, reciting a familiar speech as the first stood her up and cuffed her. All the while, Jacquline’s mind wandered to thoughts of how disappointed Tracey would be when she didn’t show up to get her the ice-cream; Ken’s head exploding at the sight of her behind bars; but most of all, the disappointment her mother would have felt if she were still around. Gloria was never arrested — not once, regardless of the crime.
As she was escorted into the squad car, her head lowered with tremendous force, the only thing Jacquline could hear was an echo of words from her father, repeating over and over: One of these days, you’re going to do something stupid and your friends aren’t going to be there to bail you out. And when that happens, neither will I.
She just hoped that today wasn’t going to be that day.