Honorable Mention in the NYC Short story Contest
NYC Short Story Contest
It’s all about the Light
“I can’t get it open, Maestro.”
His frustration sticks to his barely audible words.
“What do you mean, you can’t get it open? ‘Ow ‘ard can it be?”
“It’s got some kind of contraption on it. I need more light.”
“Well, you can’t ‘ave more light, the nosey neighbour will see,” Maestro says.
“Then you try, if you’re so smart,” Conductor says, and sits on the floor.
“I ‘ave to ‘old the torch and besides I’m in charge ‘ere.”
Maestro shakes the torch as if the movement will make the light brighter and Conductor smarter. Conductor leans back on his hands and begins to kick the doors like a child kicking the backside of an airplane seat.
“’Itting ‘em isn’t gonna solve the problem you eejit,” Maestro says through crooked, clenched teeth. “Jesus, do I ‘ave to do everything? ‘Ere ‘old the torch then, let me see.”
Maestro shoves the torch into Conductor’s hand and kneels beside the closed cupboard doors.
“What’s ‘at?” Maestro asks, though not really to anyone but himself. Conductor hears him just the same and says, “See I told you.” His wiggly self-celebration causes the light to bounce around.
“If you don’t ‘old that still I’ll shove it up your arse,” Maestro says, in a voice not consistent with his mood, because he too is baffled by the thing on the door, the thing keeping him from the treasure inside. He had heard about it from his uncles’ brother’s wife. She was a metal detectorist from Wales who immigrated to the US just as he had ten years before. His uncles’ brother, also an immigrant, was bragging about his wife’s “finds.” Maestro had heard there was big money for civil war relics. He also knew if he bought him a few pints his uncles’ brother would tell him everything he needed to know, especially where she kept them.
Maestro and Conductor had been friends since he arrived in the US. Conductor was a taxi driver who just happened to pick up Maestro from the airport the day he flew in from the United Kingdom. Conductor asked for the address of his destination, but Maestro didn’t have one.
“Well, wheres do you want me to drop you off then?”
“I don’t know, Maestro said, where do newly immigrated people go when they get to this country?”
And they conversed the entire way back into the city and by the time they got to the city center Conductor had invited Maestro to crash on his couch. They’ve been friends ever since, though now Conductor doesn’t drive a taxi anymore; now he works for Maestro.
Maestro grabs the torch from Conductor’s hands. He scans it around the room. Toys are everywhere. A highchair stands next to the table and a gate cuts off entrance to the patio doors.
“This must be some kind of childproofing apparatus. Do you know anyone ‘at knows ‘ow to work this door-locking thingy?” Maestro asks Conductor.
“Buffalo has a kid. Maybe he knows about these things,” Conductor says. He does a sweeping bow, but Maestro can’t see him in the dark.
“Get on the Jesus phone and tell ‘im to gets over ‘ere, we’re running out of time.”
Conductor fishes his cell phone out of his pocket and calls his friend. Maestro sits on the floor and talks to himself. Fifteen minutes later there is a knock on the apartment door. They both audibly hold their breath. Then Maestro shines the light on Conductor.
“Is ‘at not your friend, you eejit? Answer the door,” Maestro starts to yell and then tones it down to a whisper.
“Right,” Conductor says and gets up from the floor. He heads towards the door and trips over a plastic toy of considerable size. When he opens the door there are two men standing there. One has his hands in the pockets of his wide-legged jeans and the other is looking down the hallway as if he would rather be anywhere else. Conductor can see them clearly from inside the apartment because the automatic hallway lighting popped on as soon as they got off the elevator. Maestro comes toward the light and stands beside Conductor. Conductor introduces Maestro to his friend Buffalo and Buffalo introduces his friend as Jim. Jim looks up when he hears his name. Then he says, “Conductor and Maestro. Isn’t that the same thing?” They all look at Jim, but no one says a word. Jim looks down the hall again. Maestro is the first to speak, “Buffalo, is it? You’ve got a brat or two, do you?”
“Yeah, I got a rug rat running around. Why?”
“What do you know about childproof doors?” Maestro asks.
“I know my old lady has all sorts of weird shit on the fridge, the toilet, the drawers, anything that opens. I guess she’s afraid the kid will eat something he ain’t supposed to,” Buffalo says and leans back, proud as a new dad. Maestro grabs him by the collar and drags him into the apartment. Jim follows.
“Hey man, get your hands off me. I didn’t come here to be manhandled.” Buffalo tugs on his collar to straighten it out. “What’s going on Conductor? What’s your friend here want anyway?”
“We’re looking for buried treasure. What difference does it make? Are you gonna help or not?” Maestro says before Conductor has a chance to answer.
“Let me have a look,” Buffalo says and follows Conductor, who follows Maestro who has the light. Jim finds the couch and sits down.
“Shit man, that’s easy. All you got to do is squeeze both sides at the same time and Bob’s your uncle,” Buffalo says, as he easily opens the cupboard doors. Maestro looks at Conductor in the soft light of the torch and Conductor knows he will pay for his incompetence later, despite the fact that Maestro didn’t know how to open the thing either.
Maestro gets down on his hands and knees and shines the light into the cupboard. He’s about to pull a safety deposit box out when there is the sound of a key being inserted into the door. All four men freeze in place, like Vesuvius’ victims. The door opens. A person flicks on the light, illuminating the apartment. She screams but doesn’t run.
“Who are you?” she asks, which is pretty ballsy considering there are four of them and only one of her.
“Who are you?” Maestro asks shining the torch on her face even though the whole apartment is lit up anyway.
“Adrienne. I came to feed the dog.”
Maestro looks at Conductor who looks at Buffalo who looks at Jim.
“Dog? What dog?” Maestro asks and twists around in all directions. He swears at his creaky knees.
Adrienne looks toward the hallway and points, “that dog,” she says as a multi-colored mutt with droopy jowls wanders out from the bedroom.
“You didn’t say she had a dog,” Conductor says to Maestro.
The fact that the dog couldn’t have cared less didn’t seem to register with any of them.
“He’s deaf and old,” Adrienne says and goes to pat him on the head. She goes to the kitchen and pours some kibble into his bowl. The dog wobbles over and starts to gobble up the food. After she is done feeding the dog and topping up his water bowl Adrienne heads to the door.
“Oh no, wait a minute there, you aren’t going anywhere just yet Missy,” Maestro says and rushes to the door to lean against it.
“Look, I don’t give a rat’s ass what you guys are up to, I’m just here to feed the dog. You aren’t going to hurt the dog, are you?” Adrienne asks and tries to pretend there isn’t a two-hundred-and-fifty-pound man standing between her and her escape.
“The dog didn’t even know we were here. What kind of a dog is that anyway?” Conductor says from his position on the floor.
“Like I said, a deaf one. Are you deaf too?” Adrienne asks, turning to look at Conductor.
“Even a deaf one can smell strangers, can’t he?” Conductor asks, very much interested in her answer.
“I don’t know. Maybe he just doesn’t give a shit, the same as me,” Adrienne says, “now if you don’t mind, I have to go. I didn’t sign up for a hoist or whatever ya’ll got going on here.”
“Hoist,” Conductor says and laughs. “Hoist,” he says again and laughs harder. Jim, who is still spread on the couch like an underpaid porn star starts laughing too, even though it isn’t that funny.
“You aren’t going anywhere right now,” Maestro says, “sit down until I figure this out.”
Adrienne crosses her arms and heads towards the couch, despite the armchair being free. Jim gathers himself up and moves to the side. He too crosses his arms in solidarity.
Maestro decides it is better to give orders from the door than risk Adrienne doing a runner. “Conductor, take out that safety deposit box and open it up. Hurry on,” he says waving the torch around, which is still on and still lost in the brightness of the room. Conductor leans into the cupboard and takes out the metal box.
“I know what you are after,” Adrienne says from her side of the couch.
“Oh, yeah, what do you know?” Buffalo pipes up from his now irrelevant position by the kitchen island.
“Yeah, what do you know?” Maestro asks.
“Ya’ll are after the artifacts. Pointless if you ask me. Ya’ll never sell them anywhere. It’s illegal to have them in the first place. What, you gonna walk into a pawn shop and see what you can get? Ya’ll the dumbest thieves I’ve ever met,” Adrienne says and turns her head in disgust.
“What do you mean, illegal. It’s not illegal,” Maestro says as if saying it out loud would make it so.
“Yes, it is. She found them on a civil war battle ground. She did it at night. Ya’ll wasted your time.”
“You don’t know anything Missy. Conductor, open that up and let’s see what we got here,” Maestro says.
Conductor lifts both latches on the safety deposit box. Buffalo hums a drumroll. But it won’t open. He tries again. And again. Adrienne starts to laugh which causes Jim to laugh too.
“Just open it,” Maestro demands, lowering the useless torch.
“It won’t open,” Conductor says and throws it on the floor as if it’s possessed. He stands up and backs away. Buffalo comes over and gives the box a kick. It flips over. That’s when they see it.
“That’s different,” Buffalo says.
“What? What is it you ‘ard ‘eaded eejit?” Maestro yells.
“It’s another childproof lock thingy,” Buffalo says, “one I’ve never seen before. Looks complicated.”
“It’s only to keep out the young’uns, Jesus, how difficult can it be?” Maestro is turning red in the face now. No one answers him and no one offers to have a go at the childproof apparatus. The deaf dog wanders over to sniff the box on the floor. He looks up at all the people in his apartment and then walks back toward the bedrooms.
Maestro leaves his sentry and goes over to the cupboard. He puts down the torch and picks up the metal box. He turns it one way and then the other. He bangs the box on the cupboard top, but it still doesn’t open. The thingy that has everyone baffled looks like nothing more than reinforced tape attached to two square plastic ends.
“Missy, do you know where the scissors are?” Maestro asks.
“I might, but why should I find them for you. You are just a thief and not a very good one at that,” Adrienne says.
“Because if you don’t, I’m gonna ‘urt that dumb, deaf dog of yours,” Maestro says shaking the box in her direction.
“He’s not my dog. I told you, I’m just feeding him,” Adrienne says.
“I don’t give a dog’s bollocks what you’re doing Missy, go find me some scissors.”
Adrienne huffs and gets up off the couch. She goes into the small kitchen and starts opening drawers.
“Hurry up, will ya,” Maestro demands. Conductor backs away even more. Buffalo takes Adrienne’s place on the couch and Jim investigates a hangnail on his right hand. Finally, Adrienne says, “I found some.” She comes around from the kitchen island and hands the scissors to Maestro.
Maestro shoves the scissor blade under the child lock strip on the safety deposit box. He grunts with the effort until the scissors finally close and cut the heavy-duty material. Maestro looks up with a triumphant grin. Then the door to the apartment opens and in the doorway are a half a dozen men, all vying to get inside.
“Well, well, well. Looky who we got here boys. If it isn’t the great Maestro and his merry band of thieving idiots. Caught you red handed,” the leader of the pack says. He digs into his pocket for a cigarette, then takes his time lighting it.
“’ello Detective. ‘Ow’ja find me anyway?” Maestro asks and then glares at Adrienne, “You couldn’t lock the door behind you Missy?” Adrienne shrugs her shoulders and then everyone focuses on the detective.
“I wish I could say I just followed the stench, but it’s the light. It’s all about the light. You walk into the light. You follow the light. In your case though, the neighbours knew Ms. Petal was away and called about the light,” the detective says and takes a long drag of his cigarette. It’s hard to tell which he is enjoying more, his smoke or the scene in front of him. He takes a minute to speak directly to Adrienne. “Your roommate called kid. She said you’ve been gone too long. Get outta here.” The detective turns back to the men, “Whatcha trying to steal this time boys?”
“Nothing. You got nothing. I got nothing,” Maestro says as he puts down the box and holds out his hands.
“Oh, yeah, well, at the very least I’ve got you for break and entering. Load ‘em up,” the detective says to the officers who are clearly itching to get involved.
“Wait. I let them in. They are helping me with the dog. I have a key so technically they didn’t break and enter,” Adrienne says.
“Didn’t I tell you to get outta here Kid?” the detective says. He is not smiling anymore.
“Yeah, what she said,” Maestro adds.
The detective sighs. “Is that true Adrienne? Or are you being coerced by these idiots?” the detective asks.
“Yes, it’s true,” Adrienne says. The detective pushes his cigarette into the dirt of the nearest plant. He slowly turns and leaves the apartment. The police officers sigh in unison and follow.
“Why ja do that?” Maestro asks Adrienne.
“Whatever’s in that box, I want in.” And she sits back down on the couch. Maestro picks up and opens the box. “You mean these pointless things Missy?”