by A.B Emrys
Enjoy this never before published mystery short story!
All day he watched his neighbor pack her car. From his second-floor deck, he’d spotted her carrying out a box and then a suitcase. She looked hung-over. Then she came back lugging a printer box. He used his binoculars. Not a cheap printer. The car itself wasn’t that old. You could get maybe ten grand for it. She brought down another suitcase and rearranged cargo space again.
At noon she disappeared, but finally she brought out a Bose wave system, or at least the box from one, then Cuisinart boxes. She lugged out some flat boxes and piled them on top. Probably worthless art; She might even be leaving tonight.
Then she was yacking on her cell again. “Yeah, Harry, I’m running late, yeah, yeah, I know, ha ha. I’ll be on the road tomorrow. Sure, I can get the keys whenever.” Stupid bitch. Be her own fault if somebody took off with her crammed car while she was snoring.
She waited until nearly dark to bring down the boxed laptop, like that would keep anybody from seeing what it was, with a kindle and an iPad box stacked on top. Was she stupid enough to have stuck jewelry and maybe even IDs into one of those suitcases? He thought maybe she was.
All day the third-floor tenant had been aware of the neighbor below him. He had been having coffee on his deck when the drifting odor of cigarettes signaled the man’s presence. He went back inside, but later he could still smell fresh smoke. Ordinarily the man only smoked on the deck at all when he was staying in to drink, and that was usually later in the day. Maybe he was on a bender. He looked the type–stocky and sloppy, thick hair that needed cutting. He didn’t apparently work a regular schedule. Malcolm had his eye on this fellow for awhile.
He went back out on his deck and listened, but heard no sounds of bottles or can tabs. That was when he saw Sandy packing her car. Sandy was the kind of ditz you were glad wasn’t your daughter. She had enough money somehow, but she was careless. She told him once she didn’t always remember to lock things up, her apartment or her car. She’d never had any trouble, she just didn’t think of it. Here she was stuffing everything of value that she was taking with her to the new job, the new town, where she planned, she told him, to buy all new furniture and lots of new clothes. He’d bet she hadn’t even locked the car between trips, let alone wondered if she should leave it loaded overnight.
Should he say anything? He’d tried that before. She’d just laughed and said, “Oh, my car alarm would go off, it’ll be fine.” Sandy, he knew, saw him as one of those annoying, retired guys who don’t have any family to worry over. He’d overheard her discussing it on her cell. The candidness of cell conversations never ceased to amaze him. People said absolutely anything as though they believed the phone itself created a sort of booth around them wherever they spoke.
He wouldn’t say anything, but he wasn’t sleeping much anyway. No reason he couldn’t do a bit of surveillance tonight. It would be like the old days.
Dark fell around seven. Sandy stopped loading. The second-floor neighbor waited for the building to quiet down, for the ones going out for the night to go, for the older ones to finish dinner and turn on the TV. Her car was too new for a shaved key, but he’d had his laptop program running all afternoon as she locked and unlocked the car just yards away. He could get in without triggering the alarm and then all he needed was a few seconds with the ignition.
His upstairs neighbor sat quietly in the dark, neither smoking nor dozing. Malcolm used an old trick from stake-outs: he made notes on anything that changed. The students on the other side had gone to class and their poodle started barking. The couple behind him came in with groceries. The woman behind Sandy left for her job slinging fast food till midnight; the new guys in the other two apartments weren’t in. The moon climbed, shadowing Sandy’s car. He noted a crying child, and the cry of an owl.
In the moment silent enough for the owl he heard a thunk, and the opening lights flashed on Sandy’s car, then the grinding slide of the deck door below. He listened for the man’s front door: there it was. He saw the guy come outside, wearing dark clothes and a bill cap.
Malcolm ran softly down the stairs and stood in the shadows there, watching the guy raise the hood of Sandy’s car. A hand touched the small of his back. He flinched and a voice whispered, “Don’t move or you’ll screw it up.” He saw the glint of a gun as she pulled him back. The thief shut the hood as the ignition caught. He hopped into the front seat and buckled, backed out and cruised away. Sandy opened her cell and in a hard, clear voice he’d never heard her use said, “He’s away. Have you got him? Okay.”
Then she turned to him. “Man, I thought you were going to blow the whole thing! An ex-cop, right?”
“We’ve been after this skunk for months. He’s hit three other complexes. Moves in for a few months, targets people who ought to know better, then moves on. The car’s bugged and all the boxes. With any luck, we’ll get his buyers too.”
“You fooled me,” he said. “But then I’m just a retired guy who worries too much.”
She looked him over. “You don’t seem all that retired to me and if you’re interested, I’ve got a bottle of champagne that doesn’t care either way.”
Check out other mystery articles, reviews, book giveaways, and mystery short stories, including another Valentine’s Day related mystery, in our mystery section.