The cloudy evening made it easier for Frank to hide in the shadows. He was growing impatient waiting for his partner. Their window of opportunity was closing, and he had begun considering whether he could do the job on his own. Before he could act, however, he heard a whisper from above.
“Psst! Where you been, Frank? I’ve been waiting for you.” George, his partner, was peeking over the edge of the roof two stories up.
“You’ve been waiting for me?” Frank muttered to himself. “Help me up.”
“Sure.” A rope ladder dropped down the side of the house. Frank climbed up, and George helped him on to the roof at the top.
“Okay, we still have time before they return. You remember the plan?”
“Yes, Frank. You told me a bunch o’ times. I go in, get the book and come back out. No noise. Don’t let anyone see me. You wait here in case they come back early. Easy.”
“Where is the book? What does it look like?”
“If you don’t trust me, you can go in, and I can stay here.”
“No, of course not.” Frank looked at his partner. George wasn’t sharp, but he was good at remembering and executing plans. He was the taller and thinner of the two, and he was quiet as a mouse. “It’s just that this is important, and I’m nervous.”
“It’s okay, Frank. I memorized everything you told me.”
“Okay. Here’s your earpiece.” Frank handed him the small button. After George put it in, Frank tested the transmitter. “Can you hear me?”
George gave a thumbs up.
“Good. I won’t call you unless there’s a problem. Get going.”
There were two attic windows built into the roof. George walked to the far one and began working on it. It didn’t take him long to get it open and disappear through it. Alone, Frank scanned the street in front of the house while trying to listen for sounds below him. Everything was quiet so far.
The book – really a ledger – was important to a lot of people, but Frank only wanted it to get rid of a debt. It should be enough to satisfy Roberts, and he would be able to stop looking over his shoulder. Then he and George would be free to do whatever they wanted.
Just as Frank was starting to worry that George was taking too long, his partner came back through the window. He turned around and pulled something out after him. It took several moments before Frank realized what it was: a wooden rocking horse.
“Uh . . . George? That’s not the book.”
“Don’t worry.” George pulled a ledger from under his shirt. “I got the book.”
“So what’s with the toy?”
“It’s cute. I thought my nephew might like it, so I grabbed it, too.”
“George, you know the rules. We only take what we came for.”
“I know, but . . .” George looked dejected.
“Well, it’s too late now. Come on. We need to get out of here.”
They began making their way back to the rope ladder, but before they got halfway, the other attic window opened. It was between them and escape. Frank tried to scramble up and over the peak to the other side of the roof, but his foot slipped. George grabbed and steadied him before he fell.
“Mister?” A child stuck it’s head out of the window. Both of the thieves pressed themselves against the roof to try to remain unseen. The child probably couldn’t see them unless he or she came out further.
“Mister? Could I have my rocking horse back?”
Frank shot George a disapproving look. The other man just shrugged.
“Please, mister. My mom gave it to me.”
Frank’s look turned to a scowl, and George’s shoulders slumped. He crawled closer to the window and held out the rocking horse.
“Here you go, kid. Sorry about that.”
The child grabbed the horse and pulled it inside.
“Thank you! And don’t worry. I won’t tell anyone you were here.”
The window closed, and the two men just stared at each other for a long time.
“Let’s go before anything else happens,” Frank said finally.
George nodded, and they made their way to the ladder.
“Do you know where I can buy one of those? I really do think my nephew would like it.”
“Shut up, George.”
This week’s story was submitted for the first round of the NYC Midnight 2021 Flash Fiction challenge back in July. I wanted to wait until the judging was finished before posting. This week, I’m working on the second round’s entry. Everyone participates in the first two rounds, so I won’t know if I advance until the judging of the second round concludes.