So, this is it.
The last installment.
At the end of this, there’s a longer explanation. I hope you enjoy it.
It had been six months since the first robbery, six months of following Franks orders. He had started paying them after the second robbery, much to Amy’s surprise she didn’t even have to bring it up. He gave them “bonuses” too, jewellery, clothes, little trinkets. They were allowed out on short trips too, though they had to be back before dark for their “protection.” Grady didn’t seem to have a problem with any of it, she spent most of her free time training or coming up with new ways to break into buildings. Amy could feel that it was leading up to something, though what exactly she wasn’t sure. On her trips out she would spend money here and there on expensive items, then, a few hours later she’d return a few things, claiming they were the wrong colour or she just realised she had something too similar. It was easy enough to build a steady supply of cash. Every time she went back she’d buy something small and cheap so if there were any questions, she could claim she did return some items, but she spent the cash on the new ring, or necklace. She had started to bring a backpack on robbery’s too, claiming it made the transport of goods easier, every so often she’d slip something into it, a ring, a bracelet, something that could be pawned, traded or sold somewhere. When she did leave she’d have money for a short while at least. She knew she could steal if she had to, but Amy didn’t kid herself that Grady was the better thief. If she was going to be on her own she wanted to be as well prepared as possible.
Amy returned after another shopping trip, dumping her bags onto the bed, her room was messy, almost impossibly so, anyone else would have difficulty locating anything inside the mess. She however, knew where the important things were.
She was ready.
This was going to be the night. She breathed slowly and evenly, trying to stay calm. She moved about the room almost casually, gathering her things. Amy took a hoodie and put it on over her t-shirt, she tied her hair back, making sure it wouldn’t get in the way. She opened the bag wide and peered in, nothing appeared out of the ordinary in it, she rifled through it quickly, moving things slightly here and there, checking that she had everything she needed, when she was satisfied she zipped up the bag and slung it over one shoulder. It was heavy, but no one would notice. Grady had been teaching her lock picking, and she had gotten quite good at it. She was also becoming passable at bypassing security systems. She never brought the bag into a place and Ed had strict instructions to destroy it should they have to run. So far they hadn’t been caught, each trip had been calm, simple and they were able to stroll casually away. Tonight that would be different.
They walked from the building in silence, continuing to walk for about twenty minutes before finding a car. From there it was only a short drive to their target. As they drove, Amy lightly poked Ed three times, waiting a single beat between each one, he didn’t react for a moment, then she saw a gentle nod, so gentle that had she not been looking for it, it would have looked like a slight sway as the car slowed.
The walk to the gallery was a short one, they continued on by it, curving around to the side, where they had agreed to enter. Tonight it was just four of them, Grady, Rose, Amy and Ed, Alice had stayed behind. Frank had started switching out who went on what missions so they could work as an interchangeable team. This was the night that Amy had been waiting for, Alice was the only one who could definitely stop them, the rest could be dealt with. They slipped into the building silently, moving stealthily along the marble tiles. There were guards in the gallery, but they only went on patrol every hour or so, they had a good long window in which to steal the painting, the real concerns were the cameras and the sensors around the paintings.
They arrived at the paining with little fuss, Ed had gently swivelled the base of some of the cameras as they passed and returned them to their positions once they were out of view, anyone watching the cameras wouldn’t know any different and if they noticed the extra swing, they’d assume it was just a glitch. The camera system in the room they were in had malfunctioned two days previously and hadn’t been fixed yet. They had plenty of time. Grady examined the wall for a moment, then nodded once. She gestured for them to stand to the side and where she wanted them to direct their torches. Amy moved to the left, close against the wall, she had to be careful about this, precise. She waited until Grady’s fingers were touching the edges of the painting, then, as Grady’s fingers tensed, Amy gently nudged her arm backwards into the painting behind her, she felt it move gently back, nothing happened. Amy shoved back against it, this time harder. An alarm blared, Amy jumped, banging against the painting, Grady’s painting was swaying back and forth gently, Grady reached out and steadied it, “Amy, stop the one behind you” Amy turned and steadied it, then together they moved through the gallery. Amy’s heart was thudding in her chest, as soon as Grady had told her to steady the painting she knew Grady wouldn’t leave until they got what they came for. Grady led them to a small room and slipped inside, motioning for the others to follow.
“We wait here for things to die down a bit, they’ll think it was some more faulty wiring or something, then we try again.” Grady whispered and with the alarms blaring it was hard to hear her, Amy leaned in closer.
“No, they could be waiting for us, we should just leave.”
“I’m not having this as my first failure. They must have had something I missed. I’ll get it this time. Don’t worry about it.”
“Ok, how about this, I’ll keep watch one end, Ed on the other, he could sense someone coming if he’s looking for it, right?”
Ed nodded, “Good, ok, we make sure we’re not walking into an ambush, then we split up, and meet by the car, deal?”
Grady nodded once, then sat back, waiting. It didn’t take long for the alarms to be turned off, Amy’s ears still rung slightly. As far as anyone would be able to tell, the alarm had went off by itself, they weren’t on camera and their entrance wouldn’t be found, the guards would just think it was another glitch in the system, possibly from the cameras breaking. Their only problem would be running into guards who would no doubt step up their patrol. They’d have to be careful leaving, no doubt the police had been already contacted so they’d step up patrolling the area. Amy leaned against the wall, breathing slowly and evenly. This was so stupid, it wasn’t how it was supposed to go, they were supposed to call it off, split up and she’d be gone. Damn it, Grady was far too proud. They were going to get caught.
They sat in the small room for almost two hours before they finally left, when they did everyone was stiff and sore. They moved slowly back to the gallery, Ed testing ahead, Amy expected that they would post a guard in that room for the rest of the night, but it was empty. As they stepped inside her heart started to thud heavily, it had all the feelings of a trap. They branched out, Grady going straight to the painting. It took her only a few moments, then, with a quick signal, they separated.
Amy moved slowly along the empty corridor, ears straining for the sound of someone, anyone approaching. She moved through the shadows, waiting for the cameras to turn so she could cross. It was an easy system to memorise. The cameras moved every thirty seconds, five second pan, twenty five seconds at one location, then they’d pan back. Then of course, there were the empty plastic bubbles painting black. Of the hundred or so throughout the building, only one actually contained a camera, and that was on the third floor. It took her fifteen minutes to reach her exit point, and when she arrived Ed was already there. Together they left the building.
They crossed the grass to the pavement, Amy hoping no one inside spotted them, once there, they linked hands and calmly walked away. They weren’t far when Amy heard yelling in the distance, there was a pained shout, she glanced behind them and saw a brief flare of light. Rose must have been spotted. She suppressed her desire to go back and make sure Grady was ok. They continued to walk, taking turns at random before finally they stopped at a car park, there Amy broke into a car and within a few moments, they were driving away.
“We were spotted on the way out, bad luck, a patrol car was going by and while we waited for it to clear, a guard stumbled onto us. We waited at the car for as long as we dared, but Amy didn’t make it. Do you think she was caught?”
“I have my sources checking, though I don’t think so, no. I believe she escaped.”
“Good, hopefully she’ll make it back by morning. They saw it was two women at least so they won’t be suspicious of her and Ed.”
Frank sighed, “I don’t think Amy is coming back Grady. I think she left.”
“What do you mean?”
“It seems a little convenient doesn’t it? I mean, there hasn’t been any problems before, has there?”
“No.” Grady frowned, “getting it down the second time was easy. There was nothing that set off the alarm.” Her eyes widened, “The painting. I thought she nudged it when the alarm went off, she must have done it before.”
Frank nodded solemnly. “I don’t think she was truly happy here. I don’t think she trusted me, or you. I think she saw no other way out. Obviously had she expressed her displeasure, we would have let her leave, helped her somehow with money or a place to live. But that moment has passed.” He hugged Grady, pulling her tightly against him.
“I know she was your friend, but she betrayed you, she betrayed both of us.” Grady relaxed into the warmth of him, she felt protected, safe. Her eyes blurred with tears for a second, then, the tears stopped. No. She wouldn’t cry. She took a deep breath, then released it slowly, she had started to believe they’d stay here, together. But that could have never happened. Everyone left at some point. She had forgotten that. She stepped out of the hug and smiled at Frank. It was such an easy thing to forget, but she wouldn’t allow herself to forget it again.
Everything was temporary.
I promised there would be a longer explanation, so here it is.
Shadow Crawlers started out as something much different, and I mean completely and utterly different. When I started I had planned it to be like a slasher. Big bad villain stalks girl and friends, killing them all. But as I wrote it changed completely and I went along with it because that’s what the characters demanded. I couldn’t have someone die stupidly when I knew they wouldn’t act that way. So I just followed along to see what happened and as time went on I figured out (slowly) where it was going and what my overall plan was, and at some point I realised the story I wanted to tell would be a lot longer than I expected. So, I’ve decided to end it here for the moment and take a break. I wrote this episodically, and in doing so it made it much easier for me to be lead astray and for characters to slowly morph into something else and something they aren’t. So with that in mind, I figured I’d stop here, go back and edit this, so that it’s where I want it to be and a much cleaner read, then I’ll start on the second one with a fresh start and a clearer idea of the characters, where they’re going and why they’re going there.
In the meantime, I’m going to just post short stories on Fridays for a few weeks, then I’m going to start another series. I have a few ideas for what I’m going to do for it, but for now I’m going to plan it a bit better so it won’t get away from me. I’m also going to make sure that it isn’t as disjointed in terms of when I sit down to write it so it should flow much more and at the end be closer to where I would like it to be. Once I’m finished that series (which should go a lot fast than this one) I may do the series after it as Shadow Crawlers 2: The recrawlening, but I’ll see how that goes.