The door slowly creaked open into a ornately dark hallway. I bit my lip and chanced a step on the hardwood floor. It depressed without a sound.
Look to the left, look to the right. All clear.
I tossed my head, half-signaling to Sergio, half-trying to shake the feeling of apprehension in the pit of my stomach.
As we slid along the hallway, Sergio chanced a few whispers in my ear.
"So I heard the boss is planning to ransom."
I raised my eyebrow. Even I knew ransoms were mediocre. "Really?"
"Uh-huh. If the appraisers at the local auction house are to be trusted, the painting's valued around three-million."
I let out a soundless whistle. "There's a catch, I know it."
"You're sharp, Irena. Mariano's asking for four."
I nearly stopped dead in my tracks. I knew the man was rich, but not quite that rich. Even if he did pay up, even if he did get the painting back, he'd be out of a million. And, if worst came to worst, out of a family member.
"If we pull this one off," Sergio continued, "we've got new opportunities coming to us."
"Boss wouldn't say. You know how he can get like that."
Boy, did I ever. The few times he's ever been insanely vague, it's never been good.
"Roger said it was in here." We slid to either side of the doorjamb, glancing to each other. He nodded. I swallowed, returning the nod. I slid into the room, closely hugging the wall.
There's always a manual switch... where is it?
My back ran into a small switch-box along the wall. I ran my fingers over it without turning. Ah, this was it.
The room, though dark, was bare except for a large wall graced with a beautifully ornate frame... and probably the most hideous paintings I have ever seen. Now I know nothing about art, but I do know a sorry excuse for a painting when I see it. This kind of looked like some paint cans had exploded on a small tarp, then was bleached and tumble-dried to try and clean it.
Ah well. One man's trash is another's treasure, no?
I carefully slid it off of its hook on the wall, to Sergio's vigorous nods from the doorway. Canvas in hand, I slid back along the wall, making sure my hand was at "that spot" on the wall...
Don't wanna botch this...
As I slid past the switch, I discreetly ran my hand over it a bit more forcefully, with a downward motion.
Sergio began swearing in Italian as emergency lights clicked on. "How could this happen? Roger made sure nothing like this could happen..."
"What do we do?"
"Just drop the canvas and run!" he cried, grabbing my hand.
The escape was all a blur. We were far enough down the block by the time the cops arrived. I couldn't breathe heavily until we returned back.
"Oy, what happened?" Roger asked, concern writ on his face. "Where's the piece?"
"Still at the house," Sergio said, panting. "Alarms went off."
"But how! I disabled them all just before you got there! I tested them, too!"
"I know, but they still went off." Roger crossed his arms, deep in thought. Wally looked on pensively. "The boss still here?"
"Nah, he had to meet with the diamond client." Roger shook his head. "I still don't get it. How could the alarm have gone off when we cut the power? The only alarms that could work that way are manual ones, and those have to be disabled in-" A glint of realization sparked in his eye. I swallowed much too loudly for comfort. "Sergio," he began again, looking at me, "who was the one who actually touched the painting?"
"Irena, she always gets the piece."
"And did she move along the wall to get to it?"
"Now that'cha mention it, she..." He realized what he was saying, and all eyes turned to me.
Man, if only I could disappear.
"Aw, just wait until the boss gets back."