“What’s the time?” Doug enquired, unavoidably breathing heavily.
House finally noticed Doug’s fatigue and breathed a disappointed sigh before answering, “Get a watch.”
House picked up the pace with ruthless intent, to which Doug responded by dropping his shoulders with exasperation and surging forward after him. Doug was a strong, toned being; he could bench-press more than most. But his endurance was nothing to write home about.
“I was wondering how we’re doing for time,” Doug explained, pressing House on the subject.
“On schedule,” House replied reluctantly, his manner leaving a lot to be desired. He was appalled at what he perceived to be unnecessary chit-chat. House wchit-chat. he ary t he perceived as a man of a few words desiredpress more than most. But his endurance was nothing to write as a man of a few words. He preferred to cage his thoughts within, irrespective of whether anything could have been read from them. It was that attribute of privacy that led to the guarded sorrow that he had felt for having to interrupt Jonathan and shatter his illusions hours earlier. He empathised with his old apprentice, but would not have revealed so due to his own reserved nature.
Doug was perspiring as they approached their intended destination, a busy coffee shop dealing with the morning rush. People who were about to start their working day were frantically trying to get their orders in amongst the gathered crowd inside. For those not looking to take away their beverages, there were steel tables and chairs on the paved area outside, where Doug followed House’s lead in occupying one of the vacant tables.
They sat opposite each other at a small round table, where House calmly picked up a hard laminated menu from the centre of the table as Doug looked around with agitation. As House pretended to read the list of coffees on the menu, his patience was beginning to wear thin with his accomplice’s discerning state of panic. He was disappointed with the lack of nerve displayed by someone that he had invested months training with a view to prepare him for approaching a con with a cool head.
“Quit fretting, Doug.” House’s eyes did not leave the coffee menu, his order coming through gritted teeth. The stern tone of his comment shook Doug and brought him back to earth, where he landed in the middle of his inaugural confidence trick.
“What are you going to have?” Doug asked his mentor, adding, “I’m buying, I insist.”
House scowled, “I insist that you keep your eyes on the prize, Doug.” He calmly placed the menu back onto the table, turning his assertive gaze in Doug’s direction, prompting him to remember the details of their plan.
“Of course. Too soon, I’m sorry.”
House was looking past Doug at this point, over his shoulder and across the street, his focus landing on the Prestige Sparkle Diamond Jewellery store. The store was not open yet. Like most of the businesses on the street, its open sign was flipped over at nine every morning. Before that though, it was the intention of House and Doug to make a killing from turning it over.
“Just wait,” House commanded, glaring past the flowing traffic at the jewellers on the opposite side of the street. Doug replied with an acknowledging nod and slouched back into his chair, twiddling his thumbs. House had grown accustomed to Doug’s short attention span and was used to his tendency to fidget when the situation called for patience.
The like-minded pair had met months earlier via a botched pick-pocketing incident. House had been the victim of Doug’s failed attempt at parting him from his wallet. Obviously House had seen it all before and the novice giveaways were spotted immediately because Doug did not possess any deception skills whatsoever. Instead of taking offence to Doug’s intentions, House had observed his amateur technique as an opportunity and the years rolled back to his teenage years.
Everyone had to begin somewhere, and that had once been the case for House also. He had been terrible when he started his life of crime; the only place his skills took him was to prison. He could have benefited from some guidance during his youth, as most did. But the guidance he had desired was not the kind to put him back onto the straight and narrow path of reform, but the kind that showed him how to be a successful criminal. It was that regret which influenced him in his decision to share his wisdom of the discipline that he had honed into an art over the years. For those who had been willing to follow him, the rewards were there to reap.
Doug puffed out his cheeks. “By the way, did I compliment you on your plan?”
“I got it from a movie.”
“That’s where the best ideas usually come from.”
“Look, stop babbling. Your stress is disconcerting.” House was serious, his focus still resting on the Jewellers. “Cool it down, Doug.”
“Look, House, I don’t suffer from stress,” Doug replied, glancing at House with an expression of wounded pride.
“Maybe not, but you’re a carrier,” House quipped.
To the casual eye, Doug and House were a couple of businessmen taking their breakfast or morning coffee alfresco. The young waiter that approached their table thought the same, but House waved him away with a false smile that stated they needed a few more minutes. At the moment that the waiter moved onto the next table, the trigger for the next phase of their plan was initiated. Across the street, the front door of the Jewellery store was opened from the inside and a burly uniformed Security Guard stepped out. There was a twinkle in House’s eye as he watched him step off the curb to cross the street and negotiate the busy traffic.
“On your marks, Doug,” House said with a relish, causing Doug to sit to attention. House tracked the Security Guard as he approached the coffee shop, his mind concentrating on how crucial the timing was to this part of the plan.
“Get set,” House continued with his eyes glued to the six-foot tall and overweight Security Guard. So far, so good was the message implied in his tone. Doug sat still and upright now, ready to activate his participatory role at House’s signal. They watched the Security Guard step onto the curb at their side of the street, strolling past them as he headed for the entrance to the coffee shop. They were on the edge of their seats, waiting for the next cue. They only had to wait a few seconds until the focus of their attention pulled open the coffee shop door and entered.
“Go,” House blurted with restrained urgency.
Doug rose from his chair and casually walked around the table towards the entrance.
“One sugar or two?” Doug was getting into character.
“Three,” came House’s reply with glee.
Inside the coffee shop, the Security Guard had cheekily worked his way to the front of the queue and had reached the counter, where he was greeted by Jonathan Maclean. Jonathan was dressed in the store uniform, a red and white striped shirt with a red peaked cap. He had not let the side down and, like his accomplices, had been punctual.
“How can I help you, Sir?” Jonathan asked the Guard with a beaming smile and a cheery, caffeine-induced tone. The guard squinted to read the name on Jonathan’s name-badge, which bore the name, ‘Bradley.’
“Well, uh, Bradley,” the Guard started, “you’re new, right?”
Jonathan responded positively with an over-exaggerated nodding motion.
The guard continued, “Well then, you wouldn’t know what the usual order would be.”
As Jonathan listened to the ramblings of the fat man standing before him, he noticed Doug enter through the door over the Guard’s shoulder. Their eyes met and, with a serious look on his face, Doug threw a subtle nod in Jonathan’s direction. Meanwhile, the Guard was still blabbing.
“I come in here every morning and the order that you need to remember is four espressos, two of them half-caff and with lots of cream.”
Just as the Guard had done moments before, Doug pushed his way past the indecisive few that were staring like zombies at the overhead menus on the wall. They did not seem to notice that he had reached second place in the queue behind the Guard.
Jonathan jovially slapped the counter with a ‘you’ve got it’ swagger as he turned away from his customer to prepare his drinks.
“Thanks, Bradley,” the Guard called out after Jonathan, who had proceeded to make the coffee.
Standing in line behind the Guard, Doug took his next cue from the view of Jonathan’s rear. He leaned forward, close enough so that the Guard knew that he was speaking to him when he enthusiastically piped up.
“Hey, how are you doing, pal?”
The Guard turned around with surprise, startled at the stranger’s familiar-natured approach. He looked bemused when he set his eyes on Doug, standing toe-to-toe with him, wearing an expectant look on his face. All he could do was offer a polite nod in return, but the stranger seemed to be expecting more.
“How long’s it been?” Doug carried on, “I bet you don’t remember me, do you?”
Embarrassed and confused, the Guard sheepishly answered, “no, sorry.”
Behind the counter, Jonathan was pouring the coffee into take-away cups. He stole a quick glance behind him and saw that Doug had diverted his customer’s attention and his back was turned. It was now his turn to take the cues and play a significant part, which involved the small bottle that was concealed in his pocket. While nobody was looking, Jonathan removed the bottle; containing what he had been advised by House was a strong sedative, from his pocket and positioned it swiftly above the take-away coffees before him. Jonathan was aware as to how sparingly he was to dispense the bottle’s contents. There was not a great amount of liquid at his disposal, but he had the precise dose memorised. Two drops in each cup was all that was required.
“You’re mistaken, I think,” the Guard clumsily replied to Doug’s attempt at a trip down memory lane.
Trying his best to continue the facade, Doug persevered.
“Are you sure? I’m usually good with faces.” The comment did not have the desired effect, and the Guard turned away from Doug to face Jonathan, who was readily presenting him with his espressos. Doug was now speaking to the back of the Guard’s shaven head when he said, “I guess I was wrong this time. Sorry.”
Jonathan was placing the take-away cups into a disposable tray as the Guard, impatiently now, waited to pay him for the service, ignoring Doug’s apology for the mistaken identity behind him. Everything thus far had gone to plan. The four espressos for the Jewellers were primed and ready for consumption just as the conspirators had intended. Jonathan took payment for the beverages with a smile, pushing the tray forward into the Guard’s anxious grip. He snatched it with exasperation, turning quickly and simultaneously stepping past Doug in the same movement to avoid further contact.
The Guard was a big man, but he cast a small shadow, leaving nothing in his wake. As he made a swift exit, Doug stepped up to the counter with an immense sense of satisfaction. Mirroring his pride, Jonathan greeted his next customer with a knowing smile.
“What’ll it be, Sir?”
Outside the Coffee Shop, House was observing the Security Guard rush across the street back to the Jewellery Store. Amidst the rush of people, and the blasts of noise and traffic, House noted the Guard’s anxiety and realised that Jonathan and Doug’s task must have been successful.
Moments later, Doug emerged from the coffee shop, a wide grin emblazoned on his face. Returning to the table, he brought two mugs of coffee with him. Placing one of the mugs onto the table before House, and keeping the other for himself, he received no thanks. Doug snorted with amusement at his mentor’s unfaltering ability to live up to his reputation at every given opportunity.
House checked his watch and learned that it was eight thirty five a.m, leaving about fifteen minutes or twenty maximum in which it was imperative that they had everything wrapped up.
“How are we doing?” Doug enquired, seeking a progress check.
House was unusually upbeat in his reply, saying, “You did well. We’re right on schedule.”
His vision was like that of a hawk as he looked at the Jewellers. Continuing his status report, he added, “He’s in and he’s distributed the cargo. Should take about two minutes now.”
Doug wiped his brow with the back of his hand, but the mocked gesture of relief was lost on House, who refused to detach his disciplined focus from the target. They sat quietly for a couple of minutes, sipping their drinks whilst waiting patiently.
“Where are your gloves?” House said, catching Doug off-guard.
Doug replied smugly, “I’ll put them on when it’s necessary.”
“It’s necessary now,” House announced as he suddenly stood up and stepped away from the table. Doug slammed his mug down and scrambled after him. Apparently, the time had arrived and it was showtime.
As they stepped off the pavement, Jonathan exited the Coffee House, exchanging a subtle nod with House as they crossed paths. That concluded Jonathan’s business with his old friend for that day. He would receive payment in a few days, finalising their agreement. However, for Doug and House, the main event was yet to take place. Doug followed closely behind his leader, smoothly slipping his hands into his pair of black leather gloves.
The sign hanging on the door to the Jewellery Store read ‘closed,’ but the door was unlocked because opening time was close and there was a Security Guard to ensure that no customers would enter in the meantime. House had no problem entering and holding the door open for Doug to follow him. Stepping over the body of the unconscious Security Guard lying on the floor before them, they walked into the store and shut the door behind them. Everything was quiet; the sales staff were passed out on the floor behind the sales counter.
“Worked like a charm,” House proudly noted, reaching to pull down the blinds on the windows. Doug hurried to the rear of the store, where he found the door to the CCTV room. On entering, he discovered several television monitors accompanied by VCRs that were actively recording their activity in the main part of the store. In order to cover their tracks, he removed all evidence of their presence there by ejecting all of the video tapes that were in use. When he rejoined House, taking the loot was easy. When they left the store, with a briefcase full of the finest diamonds, nobody on the street perceived them as anything but a couple of suits on their way to work. It took them a matter of minutes to remove the list of items provided by the buyer they had lined up. To House’s surprise, the purchaser of the freshly acquired goods had turned up courtesy of one of Doug’s contacts.
House led the way as Doug followed him down the street, both with a spring in their step. The smile that was spread from ear-to-ear on House’s face was a rarity, but an understandable effect of strolling through the vaguely jovial, vaguely frantic bustle of pedestrians, suits, briefcases, mobile-phones, traffic jams and car horns. It was a reminder of what could have been if he had not chosen the crooked path to crime in order to avoid the nine-to-five. His lack of a contribution to society had been compensated for with time behind bars, but House would not have changed a thing given a second chance. They were going to receive a tidy sum for less than half an hour’s effort, probably ten times the average working man’s salary. It had been a simple smash-and-grab job. The Security Guards and the store’s sales force would rouse when Doug and House were clear and dry, and they would not know what had hit them.