NYC Midnight Challenge Two Story
Prompt – a Crime Caper – In an antique shop – With a silk scarf
Synopsis: Sara gets roped into helping a forger smuggle security threads from France into the states so that he can print money. Sara has never known so much about his operation and her nerves almost get the better of her.
Nearly a year after our first meeting, Nicholas came into my antique shop in Ars-en-Ré, France. I was showing one of my regulars a rare, early edition of Arthur Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes that he was having rebound for his wife for their anniversary.
Nicholas wandered the room, his hands in the pockets of his tweed jacket. He always made me jumpy. I prided myself on my bookcases full of rare editions. I had rebound all the ones on display, and several sat neglected in the back waiting their turn.
Once my client picked a binding, I promised to have it ready for him by the end of the week. Nicholas had disappeared. His ability to vanish made me constantly uneasy. I took Sherlock Holmes back to my workshop and began gathering materials to repair it.
Sure enough, Nicholas reemerged, as if from nowhere. My back was to him but I could sense his every move.
“I like that painting.” He was referring to his forgery. Even without seeing him, I could feel the right side of his mouth lift in a mischievous smirk. I had humored him by hanging his admittedly beautiful Degas fake in the corner after he deserted it.
“What do you want?”
“I have another proposition for you.”
“One minute.” I motioned him to sit in a chair and closed the door leading to the front of the shop. Here we go, I thought as I sat down.
“I’m ready to start my next project.”
Even though I expected it, I tensed. It was hard to remember how I had been pulled into Nicholas’s counterfeiting. I looked at him expectedly.
“I need you to ship something. Someone is going to bring you security threads.”
“To clarify, someone means thief and those would be stolen security threads.” I sighed. “Why decide to tell me what we’re shipping now?”
“I need you to ensure it is well disguised when you ship it,” he said.
“So, I’m a smuggler now.” I struggled to control my trembling voice.
“Hon, you’ve been a smuggler. You’ve just never had the details.” It didn’t feel true, but it was.
“What do I get?”
“I’m risking a lot. Twenty-five.”
“You’ve got balls. Twenty percent.” He sat arms crossed over his chest. He seemed so natural sitting there.
“Fine. What do I need to do?”
“My guy will bring you the fibers. You need to disguise them and send them to your shop in New York. Wait a few days and follow.”
Simple as that, and he was gone. I began working on Sherlock Holmes. I needed to keep busy to distract myself from the job.
That’s where I was 11 hours later when the bell rung. The new leather binding was almost ready, and the bell startled me. It was too early for one of my clients.
“How can I help you?”
“Sara.” This must be the thief. He pulled out an envelope and slid it across the counter.
I looked inside to find the security threads just as Nicholas said. When I looked up the thief was gone, as if he had never been there. My heart was pounding as I went back to my workshop and pulled the threads out.
I worked quickly to hide them in an embroidered silk scarf, petrified the police were going to storm my shop. Every sound made me jump, the creak of the floor boards, the sound of a car starting. My adrenaline was off the charts. Finally, I wrapped the scarf in tissue paper, packed it up, and placed all my packages in the mailbox outside.
I went back to Sherlock, hoping it would calm my nerves. But it was no use. Moments later, the bell rang again.
“Madame.” A couple men in suits stood at the counter. I had played this out in my head hundreds of times.
“What can I do for you gentleman?” I asked, forcing a smile. They showed me a picture of the thief. “Oh, he came in here early this morning.” I paused, and glanced toward the mailbox. The packages were gone. “He just browsed and left. What did he do?”
“He’s a thief,” one man said. The other added sternly, “May we look around?”
“Of course,” I said feigning surprise and stepping aside. They rummaged through drawers, lifted paintings off the wall, while I muttered warnings not to damage anything. Eventually, they left empty handed.
Nicholas had said to wait a few days. Screw that. I grabbed my bag and headed for the airport. I banked on the cops being too preoccupied to notice my departure. I couldn’t relax until the plane was wheels up.
I headed straight for my shop upon landing. The package wouldn’t be here yet. I pulled out Sherlock and set up shop. I hadn’t been to New York since the last time.
As soon as my heart steadied, Nicholas barged in and scolded me for my recklessness. Then, in true Nicholas form, he dragged me to a bar. Although he was better at masking his fear, it was obvious we could both use a drink.
At the end of the night, he walked me back to my shop. He leaned in to kiss me. I almost let him. He was good-looking, but I saw the look on his face. Cocky, like he’d already won, and I pulled away.
There was that devilish smirk again.
“No thanks,” I said. He chuckled and backed away. I wanted to smack the look right off his face.
When the scarf arrived the next day, he hovered over me as I unraveled it. Once he had the fibers, he was gone. I returned to Ars-en-Re and weeks passed. I thought resentfully I wasn’t going to get my percent. Eventually, the thief appeared at my door with a briefcase full of counterfeit bills. I didn’t look inside, but hid it among my books, unsure if I would ever take them out.
Never again, I thought.