This is one of those unfortunately rare stories that just take control and write themselves. You sit down, expecting to write maybe a thousand words of story A and call it a day, and instead you end up writing two thousand of story B and finishing it. Unlike the other story I wrote this week, (which I deleted in disgust) I actually liked the way this turned out. Hope you do, too!
By Ben Pienaar
The way in was straight through the front door. Why? Because no one was going to expect you to go for the front door and so there wouldn’t be much security. That wasn’t actually true in Randall’s experience, but it was certainly true now. Usually people put the heaviest security at the front door and left the back ways open, at most a couple of dead locks and a dog.
This guy was different, though, because he’d thought about it. He’d set himself a budget for security (A modest one, judging by the size of his house), and he’d realised it would be smarter to use most of it to protect all the back ways, the balconies and the windows. And so, Randall figured, the front door was the way in.
Now, standing in front of it, lock pick in hand, he wasn’t so sure. He’d got past barbed wire and motion sensors to get here, but in this area that was like stepping over a white picket fence in suburbia: the standard minimum. What if there was something on the other side, like an alarm that tripped as soon as the front door opened and had to be turned off with a password?
Randall chuckled to himself and the sound floated down the garden path behind him. Longpig, he thought. And if not that, then 1953, which was the day the man inside had been born. But it would probably be Longpig. In the three days he’d spent watching this place, he decided he’d never seen anyone so devoted to a dog before. It was a long, fat pug dog that acted like a human being. No, a human king, really, and the eccentric bastard only encouraged it. He fed it mountains of the best quality meat and even bought it a massive kennel to sleep in in the back garden. Like a house, it was. Nuts.
It took ten minutes to pick the front door, and when he was done he gritted his teeth, braced himself, and pushed it open. There was no sound. Usually there was at least a beep or something to indicate the alarm was primed, but there was nothing, and when he stepped into the front room, wrinkling his nose at the smell of dust, he saw no lit up panels or number dials. He waited another five minutes and nothing happened. He was in, just like that. He closed the door quietly behind him and exchanged the lock pick for a miniature torch.
The house was everything he’d expected it to be and more. The guy was a collector of antiques, and judging by the living room alone it was a hobby bordering on obsession. Most of it was typical, in Randall’s eyes: wooden furniture and funny jewelled ornaments and whatnot. He wasn’t interested in that junk – no one could sell that once it was reported, except as firewood. No, he was interested in the safe, because safes only held the small and the valuable, and hence the sellable. And this guy, he had one hell of a safe.
In the last three days, the security hadn’t been the hard part – it had been the safe. He’d watched and waited from every possible angle he could until at last he’d seen it: that golden moment when the creepy old man had come right into his field of view through the dining room window and turned aside a painting. He’d almost laughed aloud, then. A painting, of all the hackneyed places, and Randall the master thief had spent three days trying to figure out where it was. He’d emerged with a little brown bag, but Randall hadn’t stayed to see what it was. It was valuable, and beyond that who cared?
Now, it was just a case of careful manoeuvring around great piles of antique junk lining each room, and at last he was in the dining room. This was probably the only uncluttered place in the house, besides the bathroom. A long brown table dominated the place, though who was meant to fill the ornate chairs Randall had no clue – the guy was too weird for friends. Maybe he got Longpig to sit on a different chair each night. The table was covered in silverware plates and candlesticks. These alone might have been a rich bounty, but Randall didn’t care. He was looking at the paintings that lined the walls.
They were bizarre, those paintings. They weren’t any kind of Picasso artworks, that was for sure. They were almost like caricature sketches of things done by a twisted but skilled artist. Most of them were signed in the bottom corner by an H. Jorgeson. A woman with a colossal mouth full of razor teeth leered at him from one corner. A couple clinked glasses of red wine, grinning at each other but holding knives behind their backs. Another showed a hideous creature with moons for eyes and a drooling mouth. Randall shivered at these as he passed, and eventually came to stop at the other end of the hall.
The painting that guarded the safe showed a huge, growling dog that looked suspiciously like Longpig, or rather a more ferocious version of him. Randall lifted it from the wall and set it quietly against the table. He was about to turn back to the safe when he caught sight of something on the back of the canvas. It was writing, a long message in black ink. Leave it, he told himself, you’re not in a bloody museum. But he couldn’t leave it, of course, because the message was to him.
You have come far. Are you proud? You found my safe at last. It is full of things beyond imagining, though I’m sure you’re giving it your best shot, aren’t you? See that dining set behind you? It is worth ten thousand pounds alone. A good night’s haul, surely? Take it, please. You will be happy, and I will be happy, because the contents of that safe are precious to me. So precious, actually, that if you open it, I will have to kill you. If you are not a greedy man, you should be more than happy with the plates. If you are a greedy man, than I despise you and will delight in your murder. YOU ARE NOT THE FIRST. Give up your greed, I’m sure you can live a very long time with the plates, and it is easy money, for even though I’m watching you steal from me right now
Randall looked up from the canvas, goose bumps erupting all over his arms. The dining room was empty. He shone the torch through the archway into the living room and saw no one, nor did he see any cameras fixed on the ceiling. He shuddered.
I will not call the police, as a sign of gratitude for your respecting my wishes. You need money, I have too much, I won’t begrudge you a little just this once. If you don’t get greedy. Now, it is time to make your decision. Remember, on one hand, your life and (easy to sell, hard to trace, I assure you) precious silverware. On the other, nothing but death. And one more thing, dear thief…
Beneath that there was a small sketch of a pug’s face and a message scrawled in large dripping letters. BEWARE THE DOG, it said.
Randall looked up from the canvas and shone the torch around the room again. He spent a lot of time looking at the plates, which, in his honest opinion, might very likely be worth what the man said they were. Maybe even more, and accurate appraisal of stealable goods was something Randall prided himself on.
But in the end, he knew he was never going to go for the plates, and the man should have known why. A message like that achieved only one thing, and that was to make Randall intensely more curious about the safe and now certain that it contained something very, very valuable. Things beyond imagining, the message said.
He crouched down in front of the safe and saw, to his relief, that it was not only of poor quality, it was a Lockup 100, a model he’d cracked uncountable times before. It was a big one, too, about half the size of an average doorway. He shook his head and got to work, twisting the combination lock this way and that with his ear pressed against the icy metal, listening for clicks. It was easy in the dead silence of the mansion. Interestingly, if he hadn’t been so intent on listening for the clicks, he might have heard the sound of soft padded feet creeping over the carpet behind him.
Instead, he heard only clicks, and the familiar and endlessly satisfying Clunk! That meant the safe was open. Randall gave another cursory glance behind him and flashed the torch around the dining room, missing the slender shadow crouched beneath the table. He turned back to the safe, gripped the handle, and pulled.
A gust of freezing cold air rushed into his face. It was accompanied by a smell Randall typically associated with a butchers shop, or the fresh meat section of a supermarket. A moment later he squinted into the darkness and saw why.
The safe was not really a safe at all but a small doorway that led into a large freezer room. There were four great meat hooks hanging from the ceiling, and on one of them was the frozen body of a man. The hook was pushed through his neck and so he hung with his head at a bizarre angle, and his eyes horrifically frozen open. Then Randall’s gaze dropped and he saw that most of the man’s lower body had been cut away, chunk by chunk. Only some of his left thigh and half his right leg were left.
Randall took a step back, his mouth falling open, and collided with something directly behind him. A gloved hand covered his mouth and an arm wrapped around his neck, and before he could even begin to struggle he felt a cold needle pierce the side of his neck. For a second, he was stuck like that, paralysed by terror and confusion, and it was enough for a voice to whisper almost sadly in his ear: ‘No one ever takes the plates.’
He brought his hands up to the arm on his neck and then felt them turn numb and fall by his sides. The torch clattered to the floor. The cold air from the freezer continued to blow into his face, but he felt it less and less, and the vision of the man on the hook began to recede from him, as though it were falling away. Eventually, he closed his eyes and went to sleep.
*** *** ***
Brandon Travis took his brown bag out of the safe the following morning, and stepped out into the backyard. He took a moment, basking in the bright sunshine and breathing the fresh air, as he always did. Mr. Collman, hearing the sliding door open, called out a greeting, as he always did, and Brandon called one back.
Finally, he began to shake the brown bag and call out at the top of his voice. ‘Lonngggpiggg!’ he shouted, ‘Longgggpiggg! Come on, Robber! come and get your Longpig!’
And, just as he always did, Robber came running up from his kennel at the bottom of the garden, tongue flapping from his mouth.
Brandon took out a handful of fresh meat and threw it out onto the grass and Robber demolished it in seconds. No matter, there was plenty in the bag, and even more besides.
Robber sat patiently and Brandon fed him to bursting.
‘There’s a good doggy, Robber,’ he said, smiling. ‘There’s a good dog.’