“Does it feel cold to you?” Johnathan Davis asked as he gently lowered a coil of rope next to his feet. The black roof of the bank still held the warmth it had absorbed from the artificial daylight over town, but the air itself felt almost… chilly.
“No,” Samantha replied. “That’s just your mind. You’re scared, obviously.”
“Being scared makes things colder?”
She rolled her eyes. “Just secure the rope to the pulley. Be careful with it so he doesn’t hear us dragging it around.”
Samantha looked at her watch and saw that they were running short on time. It was nearly nine o’clock. That left them only a few precious minutes to get everything in place before they had to move.
“I’ll open the vent,” she said, stepping over to the fireplace exhaust vent.
John finished anchoring the thick rope to a small electric pulley and then started unraveling it so that he could get it looped through the pulley that they had managed to hoist onto the roof earlier.
“So I’m just going to ride the rope down to the vault, pop open the air vent, get them anchored, and then you’ll pull us up?”
“That’s right,” Samantha replied.
“Seems too easy.”
“Super easy,” she confirmed. “The key is to keep Bryan from starting his normal fire in the fireplace. The fireplace feds into this same vent, so if he does, it’s going to get hot in there fast, and you won’t be able to get out.”
“Wait, he starts a fire every night. How are we going to stop him?”
Samantha gestured for him to follow, and they peered over the building’s edge to get a view of main street. There, at the front door of the bank, was a young woman with red hair and a big smile. She had a plate full of pastries, and she was heading their way.
“What’s the plan?”
“That’s Julia Reynolds,” Samantha explained. “She likes to chat. A lot. I put in a large order for pastries for Bryan. She’s to deliver them at exactly nine o’clock. She looks like she’s right on time.”
“I know what that means,” he replied. “Time for me to go too.”
“Get the harnesses. This will need to be quick.”
Getting into the vent was the hardest part. Once he was situated, he gave Samantha the signal and she started wheeling him down the vent. He passed the chimney opening, through what he assumed was the floor divide, and eventually came to rest on a ninety-degree turn. The rope continued to lower, giving him plenty of slack to snake his way toward the air vent opening inside the vault.
It was exactly as Samantha had described.
The worst possible design flaw in history.
John chuckled to himself a bit at the thought of it. They had no idea who had built this bank, but leaving such a flaw like this made it seem almost… intentional.
He quickly stifled the thought and pushed himself to the vent opening, nudging it open as quietly as he could. The vault was dark, so he couldn’t really see anything, but he hit the floor and flipped on a light to find Olivia Sun and the one called Ronin sitting with arms crossed and confusion on their faces.
“John?” Olivia asked.
“We’re here to rescue you,” John said with a smile. “I have harnesses.”
“Fascinating,” Ronin said, standing up slowly. “Now, I gotta admit, I did not expect this kind of adventure.”
“Me either,” Olivia admitted. “We’re ready to roll.”
“Okay, you two put on the harnesses while I get the money.”
As John said this, he pulled out a small bag and began to shove random stacks of currency inside.
“What are you doing?” Olivia asked.
“All part of the plan,” John replied. “Take some money, plant it in another location, call in a tip to Rayland’s militia group. They’ll go after the money, and it takes them off your trail.”
Olivia didn’t look impressed, but she didn’t argue, instead opting to continue strapping on her harness.
On the roof, Samantha had made her way to the rear of the building where she had carefully propped one of the bank windows open earlier in the day. Thankfully, Bryan hadn’t noticed it yet and so it was still open for her to eavesdrop on the conversation now.
“I’m sorry they did this to you,” Bryan was explaining, “but I didn’t order anything.”
“Well, they paid for it already, so you’re more than welcome,” Julia replied. “I made several of them that I know are your favorite. The cinnamon delight is just… the best.”
“I guess I wouldn’t want your effort to go to waste,” Bryan started. “I’ll just try one.”
Samantha let out a sigh of relief. With Bryan eating a pastry, Julia would soon start to talk about something… the weather… the people… it didn’t matter. She’d start talking and it would take hours for Bryan to stop her.
The silence lasted longer than Samantha had hoped.
She leaned closer to the edge of the building, starting to grow concerned that she had miscalculated something. Had Bryan taken the pastry and sent Julia on her way? Was he at the fireplace right now, about to start the flames?
“You know what?” Bryan chimed in, his voice chipper. “We shouldn’t hoard these pastries! Let’s go down to the vault and share with our guests.”
Samantha’s heart stopped.
“Oh, no, absolutely not,” Julia said.
“What?” Bryan asked. “Why not?”
Julia audibly snorted. “Why? Because they’re criminals.”
There was a long pause.
“I mean, are they?” Bryan asked.
“Obviously,” Julia said. “Rayland wouldn’t have put them in the vault if they weren’t.”
“I suppose that’s fair,” Bryan replied.
“Yeah,” Julia added. “I mean, after all—”
Samantha was torn from the conversation when she felt a tug on the rope. Three distinct and forceful pulls. John was ready to be hoisted out. She moved to the pulley and started to crank them up.
Then, rather loudly, she heard Bryan. “Hey, thanks again for the snacks. I suppose I should be getting back to work.”
“Oh,” Julia’s voice echoed, disappointment ringing in the single word. “Of course.”
Samantha frowned. If she was done, Bryan would be left to his own devices, and that meant there would be a fire lit at any moment.
The pulley she had brought had an electric motor, but if she used that, it would generate a fair amount of noise. Bryan would likely hear that and come up to investigate. Unless…
Bryan led Julia to the front door and held it open for her as she exited.
“Thanks again,” he said as she stepped away.
“Yeah, you have a good night,” she replied.
He closed the door and started to return to his desk, but thought of Olivia and Ronin in the vault and a feeling of pity overwhelmed him. Those two hadn’t been exposed to the simple things in days. A nice snack might be a bit of relief for them.
He started over to the vault, but just before his hand reached the keypad he heard Samantha calling his name.
He turned to the stairs and saw her there, practically running down the steps.
“There you are,” she said, clearly out of breath. “I was looking all over for you.”
“Are you okay?” Bryan asked. “What is it?”
“Oh, nothing important,” she mumbled. “I was just walking by earlier and I saw you had company. I thought—”
“I just sent Julia on home,” Bryan said, his voice defensive. “It might be good for you too.”
Again he reached for the vault keypad, but Samantha called again.
“Who do you think ordered those pastries?” she asked.
Samantha gestured to the snacks. “I did that.”
“You did?” he asked. “Why?”
“You and Julia seem to have some chemistry. I thought you might like to meet one another and spend a little time together.”
“Yeah, well I don’t think we have all that much chemistry at all.”
“I think you might have hurt her feelings,” Samantha said loudly.
Bryan paused for a moment. She had sounded hurt when he told her it was time to go, but she had hurt him when she had behaved so callously toward Olivia. Still, he had been rather dismissive with her in the moment, and she didn’t deserve that.
“I suppose you’re right,” he admitted as he pressed the vault code into the keypad. “Tomorrow I’ll go set things right. I just get a little hot under the collar when people talk about Olivia like she’s some kind of villain.”
The thud of the locks being released indicated the door was unlocked. Bryan swung it open, and then his face changed to one of absolute confusion.
“What is it?” Samantha asked, trying to fake her own confusion.
“Olivia?” Bryan asked, stepping into the vault. “Ronin?”
He looked around, but he couldn’t see anyone.
That was impossible.
“What is it?” Samantha asked again, louder this time.
Leonard Calgray looked at his watch and waited. If things were going according to plan, he would get a call any minute. His boys had been getting restless after learning that tonight they’d get to have some real action again. They had it all planned out, too. They’d plant a knife on Olivia when they paraded her through the main street, revealing it and showing the citizens the true danger they faced. All the while they’d secure the helicopter that was coming to rescue her, which would cut the Grid off from any advantages and set the stage for the final phase of his plan.
“Calgray. Leonard? Are you there?”
The sound of Bryan’s voice on his radio was like music.
“I’m here, what’s up?”
“The prisoners… they escaped.”
“Don’t you worry, Mr. Steeles. We’ll get right on it. They won’t get far.”
“Sure. Just… be careful. They’re not dangerous.”
“We’ll handle it,” Leonard replied as he cut off the radio.
He turned to his posse, the small few that he knew he could trust. “You two. You’re coming with me to capture Olivia Sun. The rest of you, head to the helicopter rendezvous. Tonight is the night we secure our place as rulers of this crazy world.”