The colour of money


Sparks

I’d always enjoyed blowing stuff up. It wasn’t the vocation my parents would have chosen, but hey, it pays the bills, and the way I work pays better than most. Nines’s latest proposal should see us cashing in a few hundred k’s each. Her excruciating eye for detail means she’s usually spot on with her estimates too. It’s also the reason she gets a more significant cut than Mickey and me. He’s just the muscle see, three hundred pounds of testosterone. Not the brightest bulb, but he can intimidate pretty much anyone into doing pretty much anything. Now Nines, she’s the brains. Runs the whole show, from making the plan to making sure it all runs smoothly, and she’s got friends that, for a small fee, make sure not a single dollar is traced back to us. Not to mention her flare for driving. Without her, we’d all still be fumbling around robbing convenience stores.

“Sparks, pay attention.” Nines tapped the whiteboard with the tip of her pen, “this is important.”

“Hmm, yea.”

She rolled her eyes and turned back to the whiteboard covered in blueprints and surveillance photos.

“I copied Stan’s key card while he slept, so we’ve got an easy in. I’ll distract the guard, and you two let yourselves in back. Thursdays the day, delivery is at eleven. You’ll be dressed as maintenance, I’ve got you-“

“Wait, who’s Stan?”

I’d snapped back into the briefing a bit too late.

“For god’s sake Sparks.” She closed her eyes and rubbed her forehead as though trying to quieten the urge to launch that whiteboard marker at my face.

“Stan is security. We’ve gotten… close over the last few weeks. That’s how I got the intel. I’ll give it a few weeks after the job so that me breaking it off with him doesn’t raise any suspicions.”

“Rodger, pun intended. Carry on.”

She shook her head and pointed to two brown boiler suits and boots laid out on the table. “Uniforms.”

Stan held his costume to his chest. “Little small Nines.”

I stifled a chuckle. The outfit would have drowned me, but it looked like it had been pulled from a child’s dress-up box when he held it up. He shot me a threatening look, and I cracked open another can to hide my smirk.

“It’s a standard uniform, Mickey. Just go downtown and pick yourself one that fits before Thursday, hey?”

Mickey grunted. The chair legs groaned as he slid back into his seat.

“Right as I was saying, Sparks, you’ll-” She rounded on me mid swig, “Will. You. Stop. Drinking.” In two strides, she was on me. “You need this money more than the rest of us, and I don’t particularly want to spend the rest of my prime in prison, so listen and don’t fuck this up for us.”

I could hear her teeth grinding from the effort of not raising her voice. My chair was rocked backwards as she pushed herself back up.

“Alright, alright. I’m all ears.”

If looks could kill, I’d be six feet under.

“As I was saying, you two slip through the back and find the security office. It should be two doors down on the left. There will be lots of monitors hooked up to a computer. Tell them you’re from Securinet, here.” She pulled out two ID badges and threw one at each of us. Routine maintenance.

“Kenny Coots? Do I need to pull out my best southern drawl to pull off that title?”

Nines continued like she couldn’t hear me, “Pop in this flash drive and hit enter; my software will do the rest. We’ll have twenty minutes max of the video running on a loop before their firewalls detect the breach. That should be enough time to get to the vault, blow it and haul ass out back where I’ll be waiting in this lovely van.” She gestured to a beat-up old transit in the back corner of the garage.

Mickey raised his eyebrows. Swaying a little, I rose from my seat to inspect one of the many patches of rust decorating the bodywork.

“This thing runs? What if we need to outrun the cops? This tin can looks slower than my gran the morning after bingo.”

Nines gave me one of those ‘I’ll show you’ side smiles she’s so good at and popped the hood. Now I don’t know much about engines, but this was big, shiny, and had some blue pipes coming out of it. Even to me, it looked impressive.

“She’ll outrun the cops easy. Not that it should come to that. Do you know how many battered old transit vans drive around this city every day? We’ll blend right in.” She slammed the hood shut. “Now, any more questions? You have everything you need, sparks?”

“Yea, no problems on my end. Pretty standard vault door, easy peasy.” I gave her a wink; I knew she hated that, but it was too much fun winding her up.

 “I do have one question,” I looked Nines up and down from her emerald blazer, complete with shoulder pads, to the bright red stilettos she was known for. She didn’t exactly blend in, “what are you wearing for the job?”

“Don’t worry, I have a perfectly plain outfit planned; I’ll look just like every other boring customer in there.”

Nines

Sparks always knew exactly how to wind me up. It’s lucky for him that he’s such a good pyro. Otherwise, between the arrogance and the drinking, I’d have stopped using him a long time ago. Thankfully I wouldn’t have to put up with him much longer. One last job, and I was out of the game for good. I could see his eyes light up when he saw me in my perfectly dull but a little bit too low-cut blouse. I just knew he was trying to decide on which joke to go with.

“Wow. Grab a white wine, and you could pass as an underappreciated, hot, suburban housewife any day.”

There it is. I zipped my jacket a little higher. Any rise from me would just result in further taunting. Then again, he’d probably continue anyway; there wasn’t much that could shut him up.

“You guys ready? Wait three minutes and then follow me in. Clear?”

Mickey nodded

Sparks flicked his ID card. “Yes, ma’am.”

I poked my head around the sliding door, “no accents.”

The air conditioning dried the sweat on my face as I walked through the main doors. I’ve done this a million times, so why do I still get so nervous? Head up, shoulders back. I see the guard clock me at the top of the stairs. A coy smile makes him blush a little. This is going to be too easy.

“Excuse me, sir?” I brush the stray hair behind my ear and trail my finger down, stopping just shy of my chest. His eyes follow it eagerly, “I was wondering if you might be able to direct me to the ladies’ room?”

Snapping from his trance, he clears his throat, “Certainly, ma’am, it’s right through there.”

Of course, he had to be from the south. Fighting the urge to roll my eyes at the coincidence. I place a hand lightly on his bicep and lean a little closer, pretending to read his name tag but fully aware he can see directly down my top. Sparks winks at me as he passes. Idiot. “Thank you so much… Wyatt,” I give his arm a little squeeze. I have to give it to the man; he definitely keeps in shape. “It’s so comforting knowing we have strong men such as yourself looking out for us. I bet you can spot someone who’s up to no good a mile away.”

“Well, ma’am, we do get our fair share..”

I’d stopped listening, Sparks and Mickey had just slipped through the security door, and my job here was done. Although I wouldn’t actually mind sampling the six-foot gentleman who was currently trying to impress me with tales of purse-snatchers, it was bad for business.

“Well, thank you very much, Wyatt. I’ll be seeing you.”

I made sure to make a quick visit to the ladies’ room and deposited a small cheque into my newly opened account before giving Wyatt a courtesy wave and exiting the building the same way I entered. It was all up to Mickey and Sparks now. God help me. I kept the van running and waited, and waited, and waited…

Mickey

“Quickly, people are looking at us.”

“No, Mickey, people are looking at you because you’re a giant. It’s fine, chill out; I’ve just got to find this key card.” He patted at his pockets.

“Just open the bloody door.” I could feel eyes burning into me from every direction, and I was starting to sweat in my still too small costume.

The light flicked greed, and the door unlocked with a click. Nines was still flirting with the guard as we slipped through, though she had us in the corner of her eye. Sparks set off down the corridor. He seemed to know where he was going, a good thing because I couldn’t remember. When we reached a steel door labelled ‘security,’ he knocked and whispered over his shoulder, “Let me do the talking.”

I nodded and tried not to make eye contact as the door scraped open. Sparks and Nines were seasoned pros at this kind of thing. I was just the hired muscle, a bouncer with some questionable friends and even more questionable debts to pay.

“Just routine maintenance; we’ll be out of your hair before you know it.”

He strode through the door with such confidence they didn’t even think to ask for ID.

“Just hurry it up. It’s almost lunchtime.”

The room glowed with artificial light. My eyes drifted to the holster hanging from the guard’s belt. Sweat trickled down the back of my neck.

“Gee, you’re a big fella. Wouldn’t you be better off working security?”

“Offering him a job, are ya?” Sparks said without looking up. I wished he would so that he would see I needed help.

My palms have started to sweat now; I put them in my pockets to hide their shaking. He’s looking at me, expecting some kind of response, but my mouth is too dry to form any words, even if my brain could summon them, so I just grunt. The guard turns to sparks.

“Doesn’t say much, does he? Are you nearly done? I’m starving.”

“Yep, all finished here. Systems up to date, enjoy your lunch.”

He ushers me out back through the door and waits until we’re a safe distance away before speaking.

“Will you relax! I know you’re not exactly the brains of the operation, but you are still capable of speech, aren’t you?”

Not right now, I wasn’t; what on earth had I gotten myself in too. I should have just paid off my debts with some boxing work like Freddie suggested. I followed Sparks silently around a corner and down a flight of stairs. We were met by a steel cage; behind it, a thick, round vault door waited. Sparks pulled a small pouch from his pocket and began picking the lock to the gate.

“I thought explosives were your thing?”

“He speaks.” The tools clicked quietly as he rotated them, “I’m a man of many deviant layers, Mickey. As much as I do love blowing stuff up, sometimes a gentler approach is warranted. Ah.”

A barely audible click and the gate swung open.

“Now for my favourite part.” He opened the toolbox he had been carrying to reveal what looked like a small brick of putty and a few thin tubes with some wires sticking out.

“That’s it, that tiny block of explosives is going to open that massive steel door?”

“Sweet, simple, Mickey,” He pushed a minute amount of the putty into the tube before sticking in the wires, “Size isn’t everything.”

He winked before swaggering over to the vault door and sliding the tube into the gap by the hinge. He repeated the process twice more before connecting all three miniature bombs to an old brick of a mobile phone and returning to the open gate.

“You might want to take cover.”

“Really?” How big could the blast be from those three tiny tubes? As it turns out, Sparks had earned his reputation by knowing what he was talking about, and this time was no different. Brick dust blew past as three small but still more significant than I was expecting explosions separated the hinges, taking small chunks of the wall along with them. I coughed and spluttered as it caught in my throat. The massive steel slab creaked and then fell forwards, landing heavily on the concrete. There was a brief silence as the dust settled, followed immediately by wailing alarms and flashing red lights.

“What did you do?”

For the first time, he looked concerned.

“Nothing! I mean, the system should be down. Just grab the cash quickly, and let’s get the hell outta here.”

We launched ourselves over the fallen door, through dust and debris, into the vault. Pallets of cash waited for us there. People talk about the colour of money, but nobody ever mentions the smell. Maybe that’s because it’s not noticeable until you’re standing in a room filled with millions of dollars. Like fresh ink and old books mixed, it was intoxicating. I lost myself in it.

“Come on, man, what are you doing? Load up your bags.”

Oh right. I stuffed wads of plastic-wrapped cash into my four duffle bags. As I struggled with a broken zipper on the last bag, we heard rapid footsteps approaching.

“Time to go, big man.”

I carried four bags to Sparks’s two, leaving a trail of notes from the still open zipper as I fled. We darted down the side corridor just in time to see four security staff fly past towards the vault, guns drawn. Nines was waiting just as she said she would be. What followed was possibly the longest ten-minute drive of my life.

Sparks

We pulled into the garage just as Mickey managed to wrestle himself free of his boiler suit.

“Where are we? I thought we were going back to your garage?”

“Rental. And we are, but we can’t go straight there, you idiot.” She started unloading the cash bags from the van into the boot of a small hatchback, “Quickly, in here. Damn, these are heavy.” A smile crept across her face as she complained about the weight of our score. Mickey barely fit into the small car. It was pretty comical to see him hunched over, squashed into a seat much too small. Of course, he didn’t see it that way. He was the happiest of the three of us when we finally pulled into Nines garage and relative safety. We all breathed a sigh of relief as we loaded the last of the bags into the back room and watched Nines lock the door.

I rubbed my hands together, “Right, celebratory beer, anyone?”

Nines once again acted like she couldn’t hear me, “here are the details of your new bank accounts,” She passed us both a small card, “Expect a deposit in two weeks. I look forward to never seeing either of you again.”

And with that, she shooed us both out of the door and slammed it shut behind us. I looked up at Mickey. Concern etched in every line of his face.

“Don’t worry, mate; she’s good for it.”

I stretched onto my tiptoes to pat him on the shoulder before heading home. A couple of weeks and things would be good. I know my mum would suspect where the money came from, but she wouldn’t say anything. She couldn’t. Because in a couple of weeks, we would finally get to tell my baby sister she could have the surgery she so desperately needed.

I strutted around the corner. My pride showed in my walk as much as in the stupid grin plastered on my face. A stupid grin that vanished at the sound of sirens and screeching tyres.


Story by Stacey Potter


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