My goodness, it is not even officially Summer yet and it is hot. It is like baking biscuits on tinfoil on the dashboard kinda hot. With the heat has come lots of work. We can just keep pounding along and dealing with it. Happily, The Fix-It Up Show is a hit. We are getting lots calls and great questions.
On the gardening front, everything looks good, just have to keep it all watered with the temps. On the wine front, 5 gallons of blackberry wine is now aging, 5 gallons of peach and apple are still fermenting, and we just put 5 gallons of strawberry on to start. I will keep y’all posted on the progress.
Dive into your Summer reading with great expectations and enjoy.
This week’s Summer Short Story:
I had just seen a special on the Hope Diamond and its now traceable history. The topic of the infamous curse had been carefully woven throughout the report. This led me down the path of what is a curse? How do you know something has a curse on it?
A curse doesn’t seem to work unless the victim is told that they have been cursed. A normal item seems to remain inert until the well meaning know-it-all blurts out that you happen to be the owner of the dreaded cursed object.
So just how does a curse actually work? What psychological mechanism trips at the phrase? I have a feeling that it is the exact opposite of a faith healing. Both operate on the power of suggestion.
I had already started the crime story, but I didn’t like the emotional breakdown angle on its own. However, the psychological nudge provided by the cursed gems proved to be the magical ingredient that I needed.
By The Numbers
“Okay, everyone, this is by the numbers.” A masculine voice directed from under its black and blue camouflage hood. The same mottled material covered every inch of his body. It appeared to be a soft cotton body suit that resembled a high tech ninja costume. Even his light boots had soles of dyed black cotton. His two companions dressed in similar outfits waited on him to park. Each outfit possessed its own unique color mix. The suits did their best to diffuse the general outline of the individuals, but they couldn’t hide the obvious muscularity of the three of them nor could the black and red suit hide its wearer’s obvious female charms. Blue turned off the car’s headlights as they rounded a corner into the park behind the museum. Red checked the electronics equipment in her bag. Each piece had to perform flawlessly. The man in the back seat wearing the black and green double-checked his ropes and other gear. The three of them moved in practiced unison.
As the car rolled to a stop under an immense oak tree next to a paved water drain, Blue inconspicuously pressed a switch hidden just under the edge of his seat. He parked the car and turned to the others.
“Comm test.” Blue lifted his hand to his covered right ear and pressed a hidden button. Red gave him a thumbs up sign. He pressed again, and Green acknowledged that his earpiece worked. Blue put the car keys in a Velcro sealed pocket at his hip. They exited the car with no further words. Green handed each of them their equipment packs while he shouldered the ropes and a small crossbow. Red adjusted the straps on her bag, and attached it to herself like a fanny pack. Blue slid on his pack then inspected the other two; no real reason to look them over, just habit. He nodded and they nodded back, time to get this job done.
People like to talk, especially people excited about something new. The museum director and a local reporter had given the world a televised tour of the new completely automated security system that had been installed for the “Great Gems of History” tour opening to the public tomorrow morning. The director proudly proclaimed that the uncut stones from the Ottoman Empire, the fabulous jewelry of Catherine the Great, and all the other exotic pieces were completely safe. Their website and brochures gave full tours of the facility and the other exhibits that you should see while at the museum. Prepping for this job had been very simple.
They ran along the paved drainage careful to avoid the thin trickle of water running down the center. The mottled outfits made them nearly invisible to the human eye. They moved through the darkness as if they were part of it. The park during the day was wonderfully landscaped. At night, the careful rows of bushes and shrubs provided perfect cover. Reaching the first goal had been easy. Just across the lawn from the museum, as if on cue, all three began adjusting their gear for the next stage. Headlights appeared around the side of the building. One of the security guards made his regular rounds in a golf cart. The cart didn’t make much noise, but it made enough to cover the sound of soft footsteps. As soon as the guard drove around the next corner, they sprinted for the building.
The three of them regrouped behind one of the massive banners adorning the lawn. Behind this huge sheet of material, only their feet could be seen, and only if you knew what to look for. Green dropped the ropes and looked up at the roof. He took an educated guess at the height of the wall and selected the proper weight grappling hook attachment for his quarrel and rope. He loaded and cocked the crossbow. They stood perfectly still listening for any sound that would give away the approach of an unexpected guard. Green pulled the trigger and the rope began to sail skyward. As soon as it fell slack, Green switched to his climbing gear. Blue looked at his watch then pressed a finger to his right ear. Green and Red both pressed buttons on their watches. Time was now their best friend and worst enemy. The rest of this operation had to happen in perfectly timed synchronization or they would face the penalties for failure.
Green pulled hard on the rope to set the hook. Thanks to the pictures of the museum, the rope had been dyed the same color as the brick. It became nearly impossible to see where it went just a few feet above them. The rope threaded easily through the climbing rig, and Green began scaling the building. He moved with practiced comfort and great speed. Blue looked at his watch as Green disappeared over the top of the building. They had already managed to get ahead of schedule, good. Another rope soon dropped down from the night sky. Blue quickly tied it into his own belt harness and gave it a couple of tugs. He jumped into the air and literally ran up the wall. He passed Green on his way down as the counter balance.
Blue untied himself and let the rope drop. He walked over the maintenance door and knelt before it. He pulled a lock kit from the back of his glove and got to work. A few moments later and Green reappeared on the top of the building. He switched out the rope and pulley arrangement then dropped over the side again. Within seconds, Red arrived. She untied her rope and walked directly over to Blue. He stood up and turned the doorknob. Together, they disappeared through the doorway leaving Green behind.
Red and Blue both put on night vision goggles while they descended the stairs. Red pulled a very small electromagnetic field detector from the top of her bag, and scanned the door at the bottom for electrical fields. The field tester showed negative. She stepped back and let Blue inspect the door. It proved to be locked from the other side. He easily picked the lock and turned the knob. The door still wouldn’t open. They looked briefly at each other then back to the door. With the hinges on the other side, there was nothing to attack on this side of the metal barrier. Blue looked around them, and ran his hands across the wall to his right, common sheet rock. He pulled a wicked looking hook knife from a sheath on his left forearm and stabbed it into the wall. Red moved back a couple of steps and let him work. He cut a tall rectangle of sheet rock from between two studs and then pulled the insulation out of his way. The interior layer of wall fell easily to the hook knife creating a bypass around the padlocked door.
They both looked at their watches as they walked quickly down the hall. The door had cost them precious seconds. Red switched devices every few steps. Each scan came up clean until they reached the stairway to the exhibit hall. Red pulled an aerosol can out of her bag and began spraying it like air freshener. The theatrical smoke drifted to the ground and stairs revealing the infrared beams on each step to their goggles. She carefully looked over the stairwell and made a decision. She sat down, pulled off the cotton bottom boots, and replaced them with a pair that had a thin coating of rubber over the cloth. Blue followed suit silently. Once his boots had been changed, Blue pulled a square of cloth and metal out of his pack and released its catch. A portable camping stool snapped to life. He slid it to the base of the stairs even with the banister. Red stepped up and onto the narrow ledge of metal. Step by sliding step, she climbed the banister. Blue stood and watched as she gracefully made it to the top. Once she was completely off the rail, he climbed up and began his assent.
Red began her scans again. The nice reporter on television had told the world a master control existed somewhere on this floor, she had to find it. The news show had been vague as to exactly where it been installed, but they had shown the security room from the inside. If someone examined the broadcast very closely, they could have seen the view out of the glass plate in the door. All she needed to find was the hallway with the bathrooms. On television, they had been on the left, so the control room had to be on her right. She moved slowly scanning for motion detectors, none so far and the bathrooms came into view.
The master control door used a magnetic pass card. No problem Red thought as she switched devices. She put her wired pass card in, and punched in a command on the small console. Numbers began flashing through the display. A few seconds later, she heard the gentle click of the lock releasing. After a quick scan of the door for any other electrical fields, she was in. A quick look around the room revealed nothing new to her. Other than a few extra boxes here and there, everything sat exactly where the news media had shown it. She stepped over to the computer, moved the mouse, and watched the screen appear. To her delight, it had been left logged in. A few mouse clicks later, and the alarms to the displays sat in commanded silenced. She checked her watch then pressed a button on her earpiece. They were making good time again. Blue should be up the stairs by now and ready to make the swap. The uncut stones from the Ottoman exhibit made the perfect target. The raw stones had been easy to fake in paste. They used real gold to make the replicas of the ornamentations. It might be years before anyone guessed that the real stones had been replaced. By that time, they would have been cut and sold, never to be found again.
She was about to leave the room when the cover to one of the boxes caught her eye. The hand scrawled label read “Widow’s Point”. She scanned the box. The field tester’s display showed nothing. Red carefully raised the lid to expose layers of wrapping tissue. She pulled the packing away to reveal a hand carved mahogany jewelry box. She lifted it out and opened it. As she gazed, Red took a couple of steps backwards. She found the chair with her foot and sat down. Before her eyes sparkled the infamous Widow’s Point diamond hairpin and broach. Legend had it that every woman that owned these cursed jewels had committed murder. Some had killed to get them, others to keep them. The level of craftsmanship could only be described as magnificent. Tenderly, she lifted each in turn admiring the fire in the stones and the artistry of the gold, utterly captivated.
Red must have lost track of time, her earpiece buzzed relentlessly with the return signal. Annoyed at the interruption, she punched the proper button to stop Blue from buzzing her again. The rules of the job stated that they take nothing outside of the plan. All of the jobs had to be done by the numbers with precise timing. At the moment, she didn’t care about the rules. Red wrapped the diamond hairpin and broach back up in the velvet they originally nestled in and shoved the entire bundle into a leg pouch. She repacked the original box and turned back to the computer.
“What are you doing? Let’s go.” An angry whisper came through the earpiece. It was Blue, furious at the slight delay. She moved the mouse back through the arming process then quickly repacked her gear.
Blue had nearly reached the bottom of the banister when she caught up with him. She could tell by his body language that he wasn’t going to be happy when they got to the car. Blue stepped off the banister allowing her to begin her descent. As she made her way down the thin metal rail, she could feel his eyes on her, on her leg. He would make her leave them here. The rules clearly stated to take nothing that hadn’t been replaced. He wouldn’t let her keep them. Each step closer to the bottom made her angrier. She never got to pick the job. The men always did that. They would be nothing more than petty thieves without her. Blue could pick locks, but he would never get through a good surveillance system. All Green ever did was climb walls or dig under things. He would be worse than useless without her around. Red only had a couple of steps to go. She gritted her teeth. After all the jobs they had done, they never kept anything. She decided without quarter to keep these. The glow and fire of the stones still hung clearly in her mind.
Blue stood at the bottom, ready to go. As soon as Red stepped off the stool he collapsed it and hid it in his pack. He nodded to her and motioned to go. Red started walking. As she passed him, she felt him brush up against her leg. She knew he could feel the bundle stored in the pouch. She felt his hand on her shoulder stopping her. She was going to keep her hidden prize. As she spun to face him, her hand found the hook knife in its sheath on his outstretched arm. As their eyes met, she slashed across his throat with all her might. His hands flew to the gaping wound. The hood and material kept the blood from flying, but it couldn’t be stopped from leaving his body with every heart beat. Red stood perfectly still as she watched him crumple to the floor. She picked up his pack with the night’s work enclosed and took the car keys from their hidden pocket. She stepped away as the pool of blood began to expand around him.
Red turned and walked back the way she had originally come in. She went though the sheetrock bypass and up the stairs. At the roof, she pressed the call button and waited for the answer from Green. He couldn’t let her keep them. With Blue gone, he would think he was in charge. She got a wait response from Green, fine. She had more work to do. Red looked over the pulley system mounted to the roof ledge. She began to make adjustments. The all ready signal buzzed in her earpiece. She was ready all right. The safety rope now looped just the way she wanted it. She gripped the safety release rope in one hand and lowered her self off the edge with the other. She would act as a partial counter weight to propel Green to the roof to recover his equipment or so the plan said. She passed him half way down with perfect timing.
At the ground, Red turned and saw Green tangled in the loops of the safety rope. He turned to look down at her as she pulled the release. He only fell about ten feet, but that was more than enough to break his neck as the safety rope snapped taunt. Red released her climbing gear, took a quick look for any guards, and then ran to the drainage ditch. She patted the bundle in her leg pouch as she walked back to the car. She could take her time now. She felt that she had all the time in the world
Red unlocked the car and slid into the driver’s seat. She dropped Blue’s pack into the passenger seat. She started the car and set the radio on the station she wanted. Feeling oddly liberated, she pulled away and flipped the lights on. What was it Blue had said earlier? This job was supposed to go by the numbers with precise timing. Well, this time it had gone by her numbers. She would train a new team, and this time she would decide what jobs to do and what to sell.
As the car approached the main road, the oil light popped on. Just like a man to forget to service the car when it mattered most. Red shook her head. The rustle of material reminded her that she still wore her hood. She stopped at the intersection and pulled the material from over her head. During the second her eyes were covered the oil light changed from red to blue. She shook her head to relieve her hair of the tangles. The oil light began flashing. Red leaned forward and tapped it. She had never seen it do that before. The engine died. As she turned the key to restart the car, the doors locked. She leaned back in the seat and screamed. Her time had just run out. She achieved her goal. She would own the Widow’s Point for the entire rest of her life. With precise timing and always by the numbers, Blue always drives, Green is always access, and Red is always electronics. Now, she knew beyond a doubt what “by the numbers” truly meant as the car exploded.