A shrouded figure slipped along the catwalk of the vast heating chamber in the Nelson-Clarke Museum. With gloved, deft fingers, Theo Grady tampered with the controls of the intricate system and dropped a heavy leather sack into the shaft with a loud thud. A siren shrilled and circling lights shimmered as he sprinted around the corner of the wall, keeping low to the floor to dodge the security camera and faded into the night.
At midnight, safe inside the parlor of his Victorian high-rise apartment, Theo tilted back in a Lazy Boy recliner, grasping a chilled beer in his calloused hand. He stared at shadows flickering on the ornate tin ceiling high above him. Something was wrong with this latest caper.
Theo Grady, Percy Miller and Mel Bunns had worked together as professional thieves for fifteen years. Now, Theo sensed Percy was about to double-cross him. The indications were subtle at first. Then it became obvious Percy aspired to be ringleader. And, it was apparent Mel would follow orders no matter who was in charge.
Theo flicked the lever on the Lazy Boy and bounded forward. At this time tomorrow, all of his problems would be resolved.
The next day, inside the Nelson-Clarke Museum, posing as a repairman wearing a denim coverall, Theo Grady whistled as he climbed onto a scaffold to clean and restore the heating system. Below, his two partners watched as he cemented loose cinder blocks together to cover a hole in the wall.
“Mel,” Theo called to the long-haired, scruffy man standing directly below him. “Get a chisel out of the truck, will you? I’ll need a scraper. How about a Diet Coke while you’re at it? Thanks, bud.”
As Mel went to do Theo’s bidding, Percy glanced all ways and satisfied there was no security guard observing them, he gave Theo the go-ahead sign to climb into the chamber and retrieve the jewels. Suddenly, Theo grabbed his chest, his face twisted in purple pain.
“What’s wrong, Theo?” Percy stood paralyzed.
Theo breathed heavily. “It’s my heart. You’ll have to go into the chamber and remove the jewels.”
“I’m claustrophobic!” Percy sputtered.
“We’re finished!” Theo leaned over and braced his hands on his thighs.
The two men shifted places. Percy slid down a rope into the recess of the shaft. With a flashlight and a fast beating pulse, he retrieved the ancient Egyptian necklaces, earrings and bracelets. He tossed the pouch and watched it sail over the edge of the heater.
Theo yanked the rope out of the chamber and caught the sack. Seconds later, Mel emerged carrying the tools and three Diet Cokes.
“Where’s Percy?” Mel asked, oblivious to the clanking noise of the screaming furnace.
© 2016, Patricia Crandall. All rights reserved.
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