: Sneak Thief
He ran, close to forgetting everything they taught him in his panic and confusion. The alarms blared around him as he hit the stairway, clutching the prize to his chest, weighted down by their equipment and his, not caring the closed circuit cameras had him square in their sights.
Something had gone horribly wrong, worse than even they had anticipated could go wrong in all their careful planning and years of experience. He was unable to wrap his mind around it. There was no way he had seen what he had just seen. It was impossible they were gone, impossible. And yet!
They were gone and he was alone and the guards were closing in.
Fifteen minutes earlier
The park outside the museum was quiet, the air still in the midsummer warmth. The tall brick wall surrounding the grounds hummed with electric life as the fine strand of wire running across its surface channeled power around the perimeter. If the resident frogs and sleeping crickets registered the sudden silence of that hum, they raised no alarm. Nor did they react when a tall, slim figure in deepest black appeared at the top of the wall, pausing long enough for a quick glance around before dropping to the lush grass on the other side.
It was only moments before the intruder was joined by two more, one slim and graceful, the other heavier, but just as silent in movement.
Sixteen-year-old Aiden Trent, his every nerve focused on the job at hand, gave the bulkiest of the three his full attention. Eric Trent gestured, palms down, to his son and wife. Both nodded without hesitation. They followed their leader in a silent crouch across the grass to the thin line of decorative trees rimming the old brick museum.
They paused to scan in their pre-appointed directions as Antoinette Trent pulled a slim black device from one of her pockets and switched it on. She flipped the thumbs up sign, a strip of fair skin and her blue eyes the only part of her face visible. The coast, for now, was clear.
Aiden checked the straps on his pack one last time, ensuring they were securely tightened before easing himself toward the darkened light pole on the other side of the tree line. He didn't bother sparing it a glance, avoiding the shards of glass on the pavement. He tried not to grin at the memory of throwing stones at it that morning, being reprimanded by his elegantly dressed parents when a guard caught him.
Kids these days, Aiden thought.
He slipped into the hole of darkness he created in the line of lights, approaching the wall as he looked up. The building was very old red brick, the design a thief's dream. It was solid for the first floor. From there alcoves housing the tall windows punctured the surface. The convenient slices in the outer walls were a perfect sheltered entry point reaching all the way to the roof.
Aiden had estimated it at fourteen feet to the lip of the depressions that morning, only to find the blueprints indicated fifteen. He assured his parents as they stood over those cold, blunt plans, studying them with impartial eyes, he could make it. It was the highest wall run he had attempted, but he was confident in his ability. As it turned out, so were they.
Aiden drew a deep breath as he backed up three paces while the familiar double zing of excitement and anxiety drove goosebumps to the surface of his skin. A successful wall run was a mixture of skill, speed and equipment. One had to hit the wall at just the right angle, with the perfect amount of lift and no hesitation. There would be no second attempt, he knew, in their carefully timed assault. Failure was not an option. The idea of missing crossed his mind as the thrill of the hunt mixed with ever-present caution. Aiden f****d one last slow, even breath and settled into the calm he'd trained for. Even at sixteen, he was a master.
Aiden tensed his muscles for action as he ran at top speed toward the wall, pushing off from the ground just as he reached it. Fingers scrambled for grip as his silicone-coated climbing shoes touched brick, his toes pushing off and up. The pads of his gloves, also silicone coated and embedded with barbs, gave him just enough purchase to reach the lip of the alcove. He pushed down the surge of adrenaline so he could focus, sliding over the edge and getting to work immediately.
Within heartbeats, a coil of knotted black rope slithered down the brick wall, his parents silently ascending. Aiden didn't stop to watch, heart rate rising as he addressed his next task, already tackling the alcove. This was the tricky part. He slung himself upward, hands pressed to one side and feet to the other, and began his ascent up the column of brick. His body wriggled like a worm as he supported himself with only his feet and hands. A grin twisted his lips before he could control the surge of triumph he felt when he settled in to climb. He'd carefully measured the distance, knew what the blueprints told him. But blueprints were known to lie and he had no way of really telling if what he read was reality.
Luck and good engineering were with him. The alcove sides were the perfect distance apart, almost like a chimney, and he made short work of the trip.
Aiden hopped his hands higher than his feet at the top and pushed off, grasping the slippery, metal-coated edge of the roof, pulling himself up and over. Again, he unslung knotted rope, dug in a titanium piton and dropped the length over the side.
He had seconds to catch his breath before Eric was with him, followed by Antoinette. His father gestured for them to follow. Antoinette paused for one moment, her hand squeezing Aiden's shoulder before they followed.
Aiden's heart leaped at the touch, knowing he was doing very well. Again, he stifled his excitement as his father's voice echoed in his head.
A distracted thief is no thief at all, Eric always said.
Aiden refused to let them down, even for a moment, struggling to maintain his cool and measured exterior so his parents wouldn't see just how much fun he was having.
A moment lost is a moment failed, his father said.
And so, Aiden took his appointed place and waited, pulse doing jumping-jacks as he focused on his mother. She used her hand-held device to tap into the museum's security system. Studying the blueprints helped a great deal, he knew, something his parents always insisted on. The Trents were cautious, especially now they shared the family business with their only son.
Their source promised the schematics were current.
Aiden suppressed his disdain at the shoddy security in the museum, already far enough into success his arrogance shone through. Privately owned by a recently-deceased philanthropist, the Domino Center for Art and Antiquities was slated to close under the ownership of the dead man's daughters who had no desire to further their estranged parent's pet project. The system was only two years old, but in technological terms it was ancient. Aiden knew his parents could tackle the project on their own and, for a moment, had been concerned as they bent over the plans they might leave him home because of it.
Not to worry. Antoinette jabbed her finger at their best entry point and flashed him her brilliant smile, lighting her sparkling blue eyes.
Time to fly, she said.
And now, crouched beside his father, watching his mother work, he felt a rush of pride wipe away all of his other surging emotions. They were a well-oiled machine, the three of them, where once there had only been one, then two. His parents met on a job and had instantly fallen in love over a tray of priceless coins. Ever since then, the couple had been inseparable, an invincible team sought out by the most discerning of clients. And when Aiden came along!Antoinette swore he was conceived on a job and was made for their line of work!they raised him to be the best of both of them. A physical mixture of his father's dark, chiseled handsomeness and his mother's pale beauty, he had any number of girls at his school chasing after him. Not that he cared. His whole life was focused on what he did at night with his talented parents. School was a cover for his real world.
Antoinette nodded once. She was in the system. Eric slid a small tube from his front pocket and slowly extended it. The telescopic tube finished at about three feet long, topped by a small, flat magnet.
Antoinette nodded again and led them to the rooftop entry to the stairwell. Aiden heard the hum of the air conditioning unit as it kicked into high gear at his mother's urging. He knew from the specs the stairs were guarded by stationary cameras, the door itself by a magnetic proximity alarm. Problem with magnetic alarms, they weren't connected to the system, relying on mechanical movement to trigger them. In this case, the door opening.
Antoinette made short work of the simple lock then backed away. Crouching next to the door, she twisted the handle and eased it open a c***k, making sure she kept the edge of the connection between the magnet and its sensor. They all paused, Aiden's heart skipping one painful beat as he held his breath. This was the moment of truth, always. If the blueprints were wrong, this would be the first indication. Eric slid the thin magnet through the c***k, canceling out the seal between the door and the sensor, rendering it silent.
He eased the pole back, now magnet free, and bowed a little to Antoinette. Aiden could almost hear his mother's silent laughter and caught himself grinning again behind his mask. Antoinette slid the door open another c***k, and then pushed in all the way. A lift in his step and his heart back to pulse-racing normal, Aiden followed his parents through the door, easing it closed behind him.