“What would you do for us to really hit it big?”
When Nikki didn’t look up from the magazine she was paging through, I reached out and nudged her with my foot. She shrugged, “Seriously Caren? I don’t know. What does hitting it big even mean?”
I wrinkled my nose at my roommate who was lounging across from me, an iced coffee in her finely manicured hand as she paged through the latest edition of Essence Magazine with the other. Nikki was beautiful, a tall curvaceous redhead with a penchant for driving men and some women mad with lust. She didn’t dally with just anyone though; the only thing higher than her standards were her heels. Sometimes, I couldn’t understand why we were friends. But after 10 years of best-friendship, I had stopped questioning it. It was enough that we loved each other. I nudged her again.
Nikki finally put the magazine down and turned to look at me. “Caren, why are you asking anyway? I know things have been a little tight lately, but we’ll be fine. We said we were done with that kind of thing and that’s how it should stay.”
I nodded in agreement but couldn’t help the smirk that spread across my face as I walked over to her. “Wellllllllll, I know we said that after the last job but………I may have seen an opportunity. Look here.” I handed her the tablet. I had taken a screenshot of the advertisement and circled the pertinent details in bright red ink. Under the glow of her reading lamp, it seemed oddly pixelated.
Bounty Hunter Wanted for Little Black Book. Call for Details. Be Prepared to Make a Choice.
Nikki scanned the rest of the page and then sighed. “You want to call, don’t you?”
I sat next to her. “You know me so well,” I cooed. “Listen, it sounds like an in and out job. This could be just what we need, what I need. We slip into some fancy schmancy house, liberate some sort of book, leave a black notebook – you know, one of those little black Moleskine ones you can get at Target or wherever, and drop the original off at a locker.” I bumped my shoulder into hers, “It’s not even bounty-hunting. It’s petty theft. What could be easier?”
Nikki sighed but I could see her wavering, could see the potential dollar signs dancing in her eyes. I rested my head on her shoulder and interlaced our fingers. It was time to close the deal. “Think of it babe, just two regular schmegular girls heading to Jamaica to celebrate their last run, all the rum you could want, sexy pool boys, sand, and sun. Just one little job.”
Nikki pulled her hand from mine and stalked to the window. Her nails made a clicking sound as she drummed them on the windowsill and looked out over the meticulously maintained backyard. I crossed and uncrossed my legs on the couch and watched the ice in her coffee melt while I waited for her to speak. I wouldn’t do the job without her – that just wasn’t how we worked. She turned, “Fine, but I want new tech after the job is done. And no to Jamaica. What do you think about Cuba?”
I waggled my eyebrows, “done and done. Shall we make the call?”
She chuckled, “Why Caren, anyone would think you were a newb. We need to research who posted this ad. Do you even know what the payout is? Where the house is? How exactly are we planning to pull this off?” I opened my mouth to respond but she was already heading towards our home office which had been outfitted with the latest and greatest technology available. Six computer screens sat on her desk alone along with various electronic tablets and toys. Directly across were the security monitors that showed our house from every angle. I flicked an eye at the cameras, but all was still outside, so I went to my desk and booted up my own set-up. With only 3 computers and one laptop, it was certainly less impressive but just as effective.
Within minutes, I had pulled up the target address and identified three entry points, and just as quickly discarded all three. Both the front and side door were too obvious, and it would be risky to try and get in through the garage. The description of a little black book was very vague. Depending on how little it was, the mark could have it anywhere in the house. What we really needed were the floor plans.
Swiveling in my chair, I watched as Nikki’s fingers flew over the keyboard, accessing and closing files too swiftly for me to follow. I turned back to my own keyboard, printed out the directions, and checked to see if the notebook in question was in stock anywhere close to us. It was actually in multiple stores, but we likely wouldn’t be buying it in our town anyway.
“Floorplans, got them!” Nikki said suddenly, notes of amusement and triumph in her voice. “Nobody keeps me out.” She tossed her hair and scooted over to me so we could pore over them together.
It didn’t take long before we had a loose plan formulated and were ready to call and accept. I grabbed one of the burner phones we kept in stock, switched on the voice modifier, and dialed. My voice, now gruff, matched the brusque voice on the other end.
"Are you prepared to accept this job? If so, encrypt your account number, send it to the email address I have texted, and check your balance in 5 minutes. There is no need to speak. If you are not accepting the job, you may terminate the call immediately."
I pulled the phone from my ear and showed Nikki the email address. She nodded she had it and silently slid back to her desk to follow the instructions. I followed and looked over her shoulder. The harsh voice had been right and $20,000 had been deposited into our Cayman account within exactly 4 minutes and 25 seconds. We exchanged wide-eyed looks. $20,000 before we had even lifted a finger. Bounty-hunting was usually profitable, but we had never ever gotten this much of a deposit.
The voice rumbled back though the phone. "I will text you the address to drop my property. This cannot be traced back to me and you must leave the Moleskine notebook exactly where you remove the other. Same place, facing the same direction. Be prepared for a difficult choice. I trust my instructions are clear. Press 1 if so. If you cannot complete the job as ordered, you may terminate the call and the funds will be removed immediately."
Nikki and I exchanged a brief but loaded look. I pressed 1. A low laugh came through the phone and it promptly disconnected. I sat back in the chair with an exhale. “Did that feel off to you? Like was it weird?” Nikki sucked her teeth, “we’ve had weird calls before. Let’s just hope nothing goes wrong here. $20,000 certainly feels like making it big to me.” I hummed in response. I could already taste the sweetness of a Cuban daiquiri sliding down my throat.
Within a couple of weeks, our plan was finalized. We were going in as escorts – it was a guise that had served us well before. And Nikki had pulled a few strings and secured an invite to a dinner party that was being held on the premises. It promised all the trappings of hoity-toity society – women dressed in overpriced gowns and dripping with gaudy jewels and arrogant, obnoxious men entirely too trumped-up on their own self-importance. And of course, we two, bounty hunters, thieves, and digital masterminds determined to earn the unexpected $20,000 that had so thoroughly boosted our bank account.
In fact, some of that $20,000 was on display right now. Nikki looked as sinful as a fallen angel in a slinky red bandage dress, long curls framing her face, glittery bits and bobs sparkling. I had opted for a backless black dress slit up one side, a high and tight pony, stilettos, and a matching black handbag. Inside the bag were several different versions of the Moleskine book. I had even gotten the planner just in case. Nikki had laughed but better over-prepared than not prepared enough. Theft was already tricky without loose ends suddenly popping up.
Strolling into the house through the front doors was ridiculously easy and we split up almost immediately to casually be seen. The plan was simple, several circles around the room, nurse a few drinks, then change into service clothes, swap the books, and get out. We had done it a million times before and at first glance, everything seemed to be perfectly in order.
About an hour into the party is when I got my first hint that things might not progress as smoothly as we had planned. There were no waiters or waitresses. Plenty of partygoers thronged around the room, filling the expanse with snide comments, titters, and inane conversation but there was not a single caterer wandering with a tray. Everything was set out buffet style and the only actual employee was the bartender. I shot a frantic glance at Nikki – with no way to blend in, we couldn’t possibly go with Option A. She nodded at me and then I saw her wink and grab the hand of a tall, obviously inebriated man in a suit. She allowed him to spin her around and they slowly backed down a hallway.
So, she was now moving into place. That left me. I had the book that we needed to swap with. I had to get to her. When in doubt, go for something tried and true. I stumbled against the wall as if faint. When no-one seemed to notice, I simply put a hand to my head, tucked my bag under my arm, and walked purposefully away, a slight sway in my steps. Hopefully, I appeared merely tipsy and in need of fresh air or the facilities.
Leaving the noise behind, I peeked down a hallway. There were 6 doors, all closed. I pressed my ear against each one but heard nothing, so I abandoned that in favor of the stairs. Making sure I was alone, I slid off my shoes and cautiously crept up to the second floor. Nikki was standing in the first room I came to.
“Finally,” she hissed. I hurried over to her. “Where’s your date?” I mumbled, keeping my voice just as low as hers had been. She shrugged, “Probably passed out where I left him downstairs.” I raised an eyebrow, but she gestured to the desk in front of us. And there it was.
A nondescript little black book. I smiled in relief and hurried over, already digging the appropriate size notebook out of my bag. I grabbed the book while setting down the new notebook in its place and had just turned away from the desk when a letter fell out of the original book. I bent down to scoop it up and locked eyes with a man who was gagged and chained to a post under the desk. Some sort of stain appeared to have spread from beneath him and tarnished the snowy carpet.
“N…Nikki?” I whisper-screamed, eyes still fixed on his. I couldn’t look at her, but I heard her footsteps across the plush floor.
She bent, gasped, and took the letter from my limp hand.
By now, you have met Robert. Free him from his chains and forfeit it all. Drop the book as ordered and live with your money and your choice. Forever.
Her voice trailed off and we both stared wide-eyed at the man who was staring wide-eyed back at us.