I wrote this for the first round of the NYC Midnight Short Story Competition. While I didn’t get any further it was a fun, if stressful, experience, which put me well out of my comfort zone. The prompts for my heat were: Crime Caper/a food delivery service/a photographer. This was pretty much my first time writing anything without a fantasy element and I’m very proud of how I did! Enjoy (^3^)
Charlie Finn-Smith was going over the proofs of the Doyle wedding when the old man shuffled in.
“No, absolutely not.” She snapped without looking up.
His already haggard face became even more wrinkled as he frowned.
“You haven’t even heard what I’m about to say!”
“I can hazard a pretty good guess, Jay.”
Jaime “Janus” Fletcher, known to their friends as Jay and their enemies as “that slippery, two-faced asshole” smiled. They looked years younger despite the makeup caking their face, almost looking their real age of forty-two rather than seventy.
“Don’t worry Charles, I know you can’t resist a bit of the ol’” Jaime wiggled their fingers for emphasis.
“Yes, actually, I can resist… this.” Charlie waggled her fingers back. “I’m running a legit business here; I have two weddings next week one of which is also some sort of Pride extravaganza. Do you know how hard it is to deal with two bridezillas at once Jay? Do you?”
Jaime’s face grew serious.
“Maria needs our help. She won’t tell me what’s wrong, only that she needs our old team back together.” They sighed at Charlie’s unimpressed expression. “Look, I’m as thrilled about this as you are – you really think I want to risk my nice safe florist job for a last hurrah? Apart from anything, Ethan would be pissed if I got arrested again.”
At the name of Jay’s husband, Charlie smirked. She’d always thought it amusing that a cop and an ex-con had married.
“Please Charles, I need my Fingersmith.”
Charlie sighed. She knew when she was beat.
“Fine, but I’m only coming with you to find out what’s wrong, this doesn’t mean I’m in.”
Jaime smiled. They knew a lie when they saw one.
Jaime led Charlie around the back end of the Italian Restaurant and through a side door into the kitchen. It was dark inside. Charlie had to squint to make out the faint figure of a not-quite middle-aged woman pacing back and forth, and the form of a man sprawled on a dimly gleaming bench-top.
The woman moved towards them as soon as they entered.
“Carlotta, I am so glad you are here, Eddy was so sure you would refuse!” Maria’s Italian accent thickened with emotion as she swept Charlie up in a warm hug.
“It was a pretty close-run thing.” Charlie replied, but couldn’t help smiling at her old friend. “The cops are still looking for a man after all and I want to keep it that way as long as possible.”
“If only they’d known that the feared Fingersmith who could steal anything even if it was nailed down, and flirt their way out of anything was just an eighteen year old girl figuring out her sexuality.” The man on the bench-top drawled.
“Glad to see you too, Blackbeard.”
Even in the gloom she saw him flinch.
“I’m not.” He growled, “I left a sub in charge of the most annoying eighth grade class I’ve ever had to teach. If the school hasn’t been burnt down when I get back it’ll be a miracle.”
Charlie was surprised Edward Teach had gone into, well, teaching. He’d never been the most responsible of their small group and had particularly enjoyed playing up his nineteen years to Charlie’s “measly” eighteen. But then, she’d never expected to be working in photography full-time either. It was funny how things played out.
“So why are we here?” Jaime asked, taking a seat.
“Nadia stole my code.”
Eddy snorted and Charlie tried not to do likewise. Maria’s business partner and on-again-off-again girlfriend had never won them over. Their small gang might have been the bad guys in the eyes of the law, but Nadia was a truly bad person. This was only the latest in a long string of her reprehensible deeds.
“What was it for?” Jaime asked, glaring at them.
Maria threw her arms in the air.
“What wasn’t it for, Giacomo? My restaurant would be revolutionised, and the world with it! Menulog who? UberEats what? They would be a thing of the past, slow and outdated. Food delivery would be instant, with a log of –“
Charlie zoned out. It wasn’t her fault. She tried to pay attention, she really did. It was just that any time Maria started talking about data and coding technicalities her brain just couldn’t hold on to the information. Eventually, there was a moment of silence and Charlie realised Maria had finished speaking.
“So… what does it do?” Eddy asked finally.
“Ugh, Pizza Hut will be at your tiny apartment faster.” Maria simplified, shaking her head. She talked about chain-restaurant pizza the way others talked about cockroaches. “It was going to make me a lot of money but now…” She shrugged.
“You want us to get the code back.” Charlie realised.
“Can’t you just hack it back off her computer or something?” Jaime asked. They were the least tech-literate of the group and Charlie was surprised to see they had actually stayed awake through Maria’s explanation.
Maria was already shaking her head vehemently.
“It’s not on a computer. It’s on an encrypted USB stick. If I know her, by now Nadia has not only changed where it’s being kept but also the encryption key. Luckily, I know she keeps it on a necklace pendant which I gave to her.” Maria practically spat the last few words. “As for where the USB is… I don’t know, but she is forgetful and writes everything in her date-book so that would be my best guess.”
“Hang on.” Eddy interrupted, “You’re talking as if we’ve already agreed to all this.”
“You’re here, are you not?”
Charlie chewed the inside of her cheek. It was true that she, like the others, had turned up to hear Maria out, but she hadn’t really thought about the implications. She did, after all, have two weddings to photograph this week, and that didn’t include all the consultations she had booked…
“I didn’t realise you had so little information.” Jaime said. “I’m sorry Madre, but I don’t know if I can justify leaving my business and lying to Ethan for so long. Not if we’re doing this pro bono.”
“I will make you each a twenty per cent stakeholder in this business when we get the code back.”
“That’s pretty good. But I don’t know if I can risk my bonus. Not if we don’t know how long this will go on for. We’d have to stake out and bug Nadia’s house, plan entries and exits, I’d have to make a forgery of the journal and the necklace without her knowing-“
Charlie sighed heavily and stood up. She couldn’t believe she was doing this.
“Meet me back here same time tomorrow.”
Then she left the way she had come.
“Okay, we’ve got the necklace and notebook.” Maria counted the objects off on her fingers.
“I still don’t know how you did that.” Eddy shook his head in awe.
“Wouldn’t you like to know?”
“And we know it’s in the bank on Castlereagh.” Maria continued as if they hadn’t spoken
“I’ve ordered us a few security uniforms on the side,” Jay said, “Ethan is going to arrest me himself if he finds out though.”
It was the night before their operation and they crowded in Eddy’s tiny apartment, trying to look like a book club. Their books lay untouched around the room but their wine and cheese consumption would have fooled anyone. Charlie felt better than she had in years.
“Guys! You’d better come see this.” Eddy stood motionless in front of the TV – SECURITY GUARDS ARRESTED IN UNDERCOVER STING scrolled across the screen.
The doorbell rang and they all jumped.
“I thought you said this was a secure location, Eduardo!” Maria hissed.
“It is a secure location.”
“One Kebab for a Mr. Teach?” The man at the door held up a paper bag which Eddy grabbed then slammed the door in his face.
“Sorry, I’m actually lactose intolerant.” Eddy explained to their stunned faces. “Everyone’s gotta eat!”
Charlie had to hold Jay back from murdering him.
The uniform was too tight around Charlie’s neck, she couldn’t stop shifting. They were keeping the original plan and hoping against hope it worked. Jay pranced out of the public toilet looking like Cruella de Ville wanted to speak to the manager.
“How do I look?” They asked, pirouetting
“Perfetto.” Maria cooed
Eddy just shook his head smiling as Jay waltzed across the road and hailed a taxi, headed for the bank. “We’re going to get areesteeeed.” he sang under his breath.
Charlie’s eyes were everywhere, taking in the tiniest of details as she tried to curb her mounting panic: The colour and brand of the drinks on a bus advertisement, the logo on the bag of a motorcycle, the size and shape of a woman’s handbag, the logo on the bag of a motorcycle.
“Wait here.” She murmured and sidled over to the parked vehicle, removing the attention-drawing jacket as she did. She ran a hand over the familiar stylised kangaroo-head logo , remembering a conversation from the night before “You said this was a secure location, Eduardo!” “Everyone’s gotta eat.”
Smiling, Charlie knelt next to the bike as if she was tying up her shoelace. Palming the lock-picks she kept in her socks was second-nature.
“C’mon baby, c’mon” She whispered to the bike as it revved and then died.
“Hey – that’s my mmff“
Charlie looked up to see Maria locking lips with someone she could only assume was the delivery person.
“Wow, I’m never going to unsee that,” Eddy said in her ear, “What are you waiting for Fingersmith? Get going!”
The engine burst to life and Charlie climbed on, Eddy wrapped tightly behind her.
“Ditch the uniform and meet us there Madre!” She yelled over the roar to the still-entwined couple. Maria waved her arm at them and broke off. Out of the corner of her eye Charlie saw her hail another taxi and then they were around the corner and heading into the city.
The bud in her ear crackled to life.
Hello I am very wealthy-
“Okay everyone,” she whispered, “it’s go time.”
“Hello, I am very wealthy and I would like to make a very large deposit.” The clerk’s smile became fixed as the woman slammed down a large and heavy-sounding bag on the desk in front of her.
“Do you have an account with us?”
“Oh heavens no!” The woman announced, “My daaaahling Harold only banked in the Bahamas, but he’s dead now so I can bank where I want and I thought I would try to support, you know,” Her voice dropped dramatically and a wave of strong perfume wafted over the clerk as the woman drew closer, “local businesses.” She waggled her eyebrows. Then she burst into tears.
“Oh my daaahling Harold, why did you leave me here among the commoners?” She wailed. The clerk didn’t move, transfixed by the spectacle of wealthy ignorance before her. “How I miss your bushy Black Beard, so soft! Just like you my darling husband. I find no consolation, even in the exorbitant wealth you left me. I should join a nunnery, for earthly wealth is of no use without you, I shall go to the Madre at once!” The clerk held her breath as the woman turned to leave. “But no!” She turned back.
“Damnit” The clerk muttered.
“All I have left of you is my wealth and a single copy of Fingersmith which you bought me when we were young and it made me gasp. Harold, I said, Harold, those are lesbians! And we laughed, for everyone knows there’s no such thing and it became quite a joke between us! No! I am decided, you snakes with your interest rates shant have what is left of my Harold!” She turned on her heel and marched out the door.
Half an hour later the security alarm went off and the clerk got home early to the delight of her wife.
Their entry was staggered. First Eddy, then Maria then Charlie, listening in as Jaime recited their old code names. Jaime was enough of a distraction that they entered without issue. They hustled down hallways, bearing their heat-proof boxes and bags aloft so they were the first thing anyone saw. Then Eddy bumped into a young woman in red-soled stilettos whose badge read Branch Manager. Charlie groaned internally as the woman made eye contact.
“Oh my god. Charlotte? Charlotte Finn-Smith? Sorry, but you are her right? The famous wedding photographer?”
“Oh shiiiit.” Eddy mouthed at her and she struggled not to put her middle finger up at him. Instead, she smiled.
“Yeah, I’m her.”
“What are you doing?” Maria whispered but Charlie shook her head slightly at her.
“Oh my god, I was just saying to my fiancé, can you believe Sammy is now my fiancé, but anyway I was just saying to him that it would be amaaaazing if we could get the Charlotte Finn-Smith for our wedding, and here you are! Delivering pizzas!”
“Well, you know, ten thousand a wedding just wasn’t cutting it.” Charlie joked. The woman nodded.
“Right?! It’s impossible to live on anything less than a hundred thousand a day these days.”
Oh my god she’s serious Charlie thought.
“Anyway, lovely to bump into you…”
“…Gloria. Just give me a call and I’ll fit you in.”
“Oh just wait til Sammy hears this, he’ll be thrilled.” She tottered off down the hallway, practically bouncing off the walls.
Charlie waited until Gloria was out of sight to hold up the key she had swiped from the branch manager’s key ring.
And that was that.
They ditched the bike near a police station with a hand-typed note saying “sorry” and the name of the person it had been stolen from. They burnt the fake ID’s they had brought along just in case and then they went their separate ways, once again determined to live their lives apart and free of crime.
Charlie’s studio was dark when she returned. She picked up her proofs and put them down again. She scrolled through her website. It looked archaic and needed updating. She picked up her phone, paused, and put it down again. Then she picked it up and dialled a number.
“Buonasera Madre, want to order in some Pizza Hut?