Dec, 06 2014 The Would-Be Thief
Posted on 06 December 2014
“Are you sure this is–?”
“Do you want to get caught?”
“No, I just—“
“Then stuff a rag in it!”
Sergey huffed but didn’t say anything else. John knew he would hear it all again, later. Hours of complaining and huffing and accusing in exchange for a couple minutes of blissful silence. Granted, those hours seemed to come no matter what. If only Sergey’s father wasn’t paying so well for John to take the little runt under his wing…. at least this time it would be worth it.
“Okay, Ginny, you circle down over that way.”
She ran off where John pointed, and he looked at Sergey.
“Because I do,” John said quickly. “Now, you, go left, keep an eye out, and don’t get caught. If you see even the slightest bit of red, hold completely still and don’t make a sound.”
“What…” Sergey fought to lower his voice. “What if it doesn’t go away?”
“Then just stay still, alright? We’ll come and get you.”
“No you won’t.”
I wouldn’t leave a cash cow like you behind. That’s what John wanted to say, but he was forbidden by the contract to let Sergey actually know that his place in this little group was being paid for. He had to think they wanted him. What kind of lesson was that for a dad to teach his son? Sergey would learn one day or the other. Little good lying to him now did.
“We don’t leave squaddies behind,” he said instead. “Now go! And try to at least hit the switch, okay?”
Sergey blushed but nodded and ran off. The last time they tried something like this, Sergey went exactly where he was supposed to, waited exactly as long as he was supposed to, then ran back to the rendezvous, all without actually doing what he was sent out to do in the first place. And yet, somehow, it had been John that had to endure the hours of Sergey crying and blubbering and saying how it wasn’t his fault.
Some small part of John hoped Sergey would set one of them off completely. Yeah, it would make a whole other mess of things, but at least John knew how to handle that kind of problem. How do you turn a nitwit into a competent thief?
John finished a slow count of fifty he had been running in his head since Ginny ran off, and then started down the central aisle. It was too dark to see detail, but he knew the walls were lined with severe statues carved from strange, green rock that seemed almost too vibrant to be real. He’d also seen other statues, smaller, made of the same rock, just before the guards had removed them in the morning, most likely to take them out back and smash them, although occasionally one was put in the great square as a warning. No one stole from the Phirantium, and all paid the price. Would Sergey be out there tomorrow?
He felt a stone shift under this feet and he froze, moving only his eyes. Pressure plates? Really? Was it that simple? He had researched the place for a month trying to figure out how the statues worked. Bribed guards, hidden in shadows and watched, found the little secret door to a guard shack that surely had some sort of controls that made the statues docile, and it all came down to simple pressure plates? John nearly wanted to scream.
But he didn’t. Red eyes lit near him, and he did not move a muscle. There was only one thing truly known about the statues: if you stand still, they won’t hurt you. Thieves had stood still before the entire night until the guards lined both sides of the hallway and the eyes finally closed. Although not before the guards would throw rotten fruit instead, trying to hit the thief and make him or her move. So this was to be the end of the great John. Done in by a statue or a tomato because he was too busy worrying about a hapless kid he’d been saddled with.
And then the unexpected happened. That kid came tumbling down the hall.
“I did it! I got there without setting a single one off. Why are you just…?”
John couldn’t see Sergey—he was facing the wrong way and moving would be death, but he could almost hear realization sink in through the boy’s thick head. Yes, that’s right, even the best can get it wrong, thought John. What hope do you have? Now just run back to daddy and leave me to die.
“Hold still,” Sergey said. “Try and relax, that will make it easier.”
Yeah, like I was about to just start dancing the Corenda. Stupid kid. And then he heard Sergey running. Yeah, just what he thought. Now to try and think—
And something hit him hard from behind. The hallway flashed red. Not just red, but Red. Every shade from deep maroon to bright crimson, it was there all at once. And then it faded, and John tried to roll over from where he fell, but he found that he couldn’t. It was like something heavy was stopping him from moving anything at all. So this was being a statue. They didn’t say you could still feel. What would it feel like when they started to break him apart?
“Thank the six, it worked!”
The weight lifted, and John did roll over and look up at the sight he least expected to see. Sergey, big doofy grin splitting his face.
“I tackled you,” he said. “And carried us to the end of the hall. It worked!”
John sat up and looked around. Sure enough, they were in the wide antechamber after the hallway of statues. He felt like each and every one of them had fallen on him, but he wasn’t one himself.
The boy cringed, seeming to know what was coming. Insults. Chastisements. Yelling.
“You saved my life. Thank you.”
That big doofy grin came back, and John shook his head.
“Come on, let’s get on with this. That was only the beginning.”