As the last screw came loose, Harper removed the vent from the wall and crawled up into the ducts. Unfortunately, there was no way to replace the vent from inside (and facing towards the casino), so the only thing she could do was press the transmitter on her headphones, pulling a few strands of blonde hair trapped by the earpiece. “Crawler to Fairy Princess, I’m in vents; could you quickly replace the grate I had to remove before someone sees it? Also, who chose these goddamn codenames?”
Bells voice came in, staticky but clear enough. “Nath did.” Harper rolled her eyes. Of course it was Nathalia. “And negative on that, Crawler, I’m needed in the van at all times.”
Harper army-crawled further into the casino. She wrinkled her nose; the owners really needed to clean their vents better, she was going to be covered in dust by the end. “Doing what!?” she whispered harshly. “We got lucky enough to find a vent in a blind spot, but what if someone takes a smoke break and finds the gaping hole in the wall!?”
“I have to keep an eye on Nath and Gambler!” Bells shot back. “What if something happens to her while I’m away from the monitors? Rescrewing a grate will take minutes of my precious time!”
“So you can’t even cast an illusion spell over the hole or something?”
“That is not how my magic works, and you know it—"
Devon took this moment to chime in to their conversation. “Harper, please don’t worry about it; no one goes into that alley except to throw away trash. There’s a specially lounge in the back for employees to smoke.” Devon had been hired for security under a fake name and face, to get the layout of the place and schedules and access codes. He’d only been there a week before they’d gotten enough information for the heist.
“See?” Bells chirped. “It’ll be fine to leave it, Dog Boy says so too.”
“I thought we weren’t using codenames—” Devon protested.
Harper rolled her eyes again. In the gloom ahead, she saw a branch in the vents. “Princess, I’m at a crossroad. Right or straight?”
“Straight. Dog Boy, how are our men on the floor?”
“Stop calling me that—” He growled, and Harper knew from experience that his tone meant his eyes would flash gold, before taking a deep breath. “Both Nathalia and Felix are fine.”
“No.” Devon stopped her whining in its tracks. “They were stupid in the first place and if Nath wanted us to use them, then she should have picked better ones.” There was a moment of silence, where Harper was alone except for the soft rubbing of her clothes against the metal vent, before Devon continued. “Felix is winning a lot at blackjack and its already starting to catch the attention of management. Nath’s playing slots out of the way from the main tables.”
“And you’re west-side, near the stairs leading down,” Bells said. “Aw, you look so cute in your little uniform!”
“What about Nath’s parents?” Harper asked, inching along.
“In their office. Though I see her brother wandering around the roulette tables. It won’t be long until he notices her though.”
“Update me when they see each other,” she told Bells. Nath might have made their heist plan, but that didn’t mean Harper had to like it. Nathalia would be seeing her family for the first time in years, and it was only to distract them so they wouldn’t notice the chaos of their heist. It made Harper nervous, leaving her alone with those people. Not only was Nath in a wheelchair, which made escaping difficult for her if things went south, but this was her family.
Harper hadn’t even wanted to take the job. The Lugo family was notorious in the underworld, using their dozens of casinos to traffic weapons and drugs all over the country. Harper wasn’t a fool; even if they managed to steal back the painting their client wanted, it would make them enemies for life, and the Lugos were ruthless enough to never give up on revenge.
Nathalia was much the same, so Harper hadn’t been too surprised to learn that she was a daughter of the family. She’d been more surprised to learn that Nath had accepted the job immediately without a thought towards her former family.
After a few more branches in the vents, Harper finally came to the exit she was looking for: a straight drop down into a storage room just meters away from the vault. It took some wiggling, but Harper managed to turn around in the vent, her legs dangling into the void. “In position,” she grunted, her stomach and arms burning as she kept herself from slipping down the one-way drop. “Devon?”
“Nath still hasn’t been seen. I’m going to give her the signal.” There were some rustles on the other end of the line, then a glass shattered, causing a woman to scream. “There. She’s on the move.”
“Her brother spotted her, he’s heading to intercept,” Bells confirmed. “Felix is pretending to drink more too, so his distraction should start soon.”
One of the biggest problems to their heist was security. You needed a key-card to get down to the floor with the vault. With Devon, they had that covered, but then there was the guard posted in front of the vault at all times—a guard that was always a senior staff member. So, how get rid of the guard?
A riot. Felix’s riot.
Felix’s part of the plan was simple: win a lot and for a while at blackjack, to make the dealer and management think he’s counting cards. Of course, they wouldn’t find anything—Felix didn’t have to cheat at cards to win, his magic just made him extremely lucky—but the guards would find evidence on everyone else. Invisible ink slipped into a back pocket, calculations for counting cards placed in a purse, a note near the dealer making it seem like the game was rigged… Felix had nimble hands, and a nimble mind, picking out everyone who seemed desperate enough to try and cheat, then framing them. But none of these people actually did cheat, so when the guards tried to pull them away from the tables to “talk” to them…
Felix once told her that emotions were much easier to manipulate than luck. Harper believed him.
Shouts and screaming echoed through the vents, below her, she could hear Devon talk to the security guards outside the vault. A riot had started and Devon, being so new and so scared, ran to get his superiors. There was some arguing and begging that Harper could barely make out—Devon had turned off his transmitter—before the voices left. Soon, the grate underneath her disappeared and Harper finally dropped.
She landed in the werewolf’s strong arms and Devon set her down on her feet. She patted his arm in thanks, ignoring how hot her cheeks felt. “Was I even heavy to you?” she asked, looking up at Devon who was unfairly over a foot taller than her. Some dust had fallen out with her and greyed his brown hair.
“No. Why are you covered in dust?” His dark brown eyes sparkled with mirth.
She grimaced, trying to dust herself off with her gloved hands. Grey streaked covered her black clothes, much worse, so she stopped. “It was filthy in there. I don’t even want to know when they last changed their air filters.”
He looked around the storage room, filled with glasses and boxes meant for the bar upstairs, then at the door. “We should get going.”
She coughed, having embarrassed herself enough. “Yeah.” She darted around Devon and out the door. With the Lugos’ attention focused on Nathalia and the guards’ attention on the fighting, she’d have more than enough time to work on the vault.
And what a vault it was. The Smithfield 2014, created and distributed the same year, had a sixteen-tumbler lock and was a completely airtight box of 8-inch carbon steel, with the ability to take an anti-tank rifle round without denting. It was designed for banks, for museums, and… for rich people who had nothing better to spend their money on than something to keep thieves from touching said money. With one way in or out, the door was locked with an eight-digit code, no computers to hack or random number generators to bypass. Just good old-fashioned guessing.
Or at least, that’s what the creators hoped the thieves would do. But Harper was better than that.
Kneeling down in front of the door, she shined a penlight at the rotating dial of numbers, all set at zero. The door was too thick to listen for tumblers, but Harper had her own idea on how to get the code. The dials rotated freely, but became locked into place as the door opened, wearing down the metal a little more every time it was opened. Perhaps if the vault wasn’t opened often, there wouldn’t be noticeable wear and tear, but Nath said inventory was checked every day.
As she spun the dials, Harper shined the penlight into the corners where the door met the dials, looking for any imperfections that would indicate which was the right number.
She pulled the handle and the numbers locked into place, the vault door opening.
Devon, who’d guarded her back as she cracked the vault, frowned at the code. “A date?”
“Nath’s birthday,” she answered, refusing to feel guilty about robbing Nath’s parents. She’d said it was alright after all, and while Harper didn’t know the reason why Nath had originally cut her parents out of her life, she knew Nath well enough to know it had to be for a good reason.
Besides, her parents were stupid enough to make a family member’s birthday the code to their important vault; every thief knows to check important dates in case they were passwords. Harper was a little disappointed the code ended up being so obvious, but at least her theory about the dials turned out right.
Stepping inside the vault, Harper shone her penlight around. There were tables and stacks of crates, trolleys covered with gold and stacks of bills and… a pile of paintings, right there by the entrance. A grin lit up her face. She knelt beside the paintings, Devon faithfully guarding her back, and flipped through them. Their client only gave them the name and description of the painting they were looking for—apparently faeries didn’t take pictures of their valuables for identification purposes—but there was one way to check if it was the real deal.
She found the painting in a gold painted frame. It was a woman staring off across the desert, her lilac dress billowing around her. With a second of hesitation—you really weren’t supposed to touch paintings this old—she tickled the painted woman under her chin.
The woman flinched, breaking her stoic vigil to stare horrified up at Harper. With every moment, the paint on the canvas cracked before the magic healed it. Harper smiled down at the woman. “We’re here to save you,” she reassured the painting. “We’re going to bring you home.”
Big, glistening tears fell down the woman’s cheeks as she smiled up at her.
Harper gave the painting to Devon so he could dismantle the frame with his strength. While he worked, she looked around the room, leaving the section with paintings. There were piles of money and gold ingots, a tempting threat, but she didn’t want the Lugos after them more anything but the painting. Examining the crates, she saw that they contained—she pointed her penlight through the cracks—guns and vials. The light glinted off a piece of metal and Harper looked up to see a small metal grate, no longer than six inches and bright silver against dark grey, embedded in the ceiling. She looked up to see a trail of vents leading to the back of the vault.
The Smithfield 2014 was supposed to be airtight. If the Lugos spend the effort and money to drill vents into 8-inches of solid metal…
The vents led to a box-shaped outcropping in the back corner of the vault, a metal door embedded in the side. This tiny room hadn’t been on the floorplans. She tried the doorknob, but it was locked. Sighing, she slipped a pin and pick out of her boots and picked the door open.
She stared at the contents. “Devon? Come here.”
He walked up behind her. “What? I was almost done getting the painting.”
She held the door open so he could look inside. “I know why Nath doesn’t talk to her family anymore.”
Three pairs of terrified eyes, attached to three terrified children, stared back at her from inside the closet.