Jules watched nervously from the relative safety of the small Fiat Punto parked approximately half a mile away from their designated target. The nocturnal shenanigans of this night had already proved too risky and disconcerting for him. Their heavy breath steamed up the inside of the windows as Bill ran through the final checks.
“Put the demister on, man. We can’t see shit out the windows.” Tobe called out from the back seat.
Bill didn’t take his eyes off the mobile phone. Having already synchronised three of them, he set the alarm precisely one hour later. That would surely give them enough time, he thought.
Tobe opened a dry palm and noisily wiped away the condensation on the glass next to him. Squinting to peer out, all he could see was pure blackness. “Hey, I’m talking to you, man. I said I can’t see shit out my side. It’s all dark. Just start the car for a few seconds to clear it up.”
From the back, he could see the figure of Bill looking up distractedly. “Why don’t I put your fucking head through the window? It’ll be quicker to clear that way. Plus with the added bonus of maybe knocking some sense into that nugget you call a brain. Sound good to you?”
Alf turned around to look back from the passenger side and grinned at him, loving the action. “I’d be real careful what you say in the next few seconds, man.” His gaze lingered a little too long for Tobe's liking.
The calmness in Alf's voice spooked him somewhat. He didn’t reply. After a few seconds, Bill put his head down again and finished setting the alarm. A small chime a few moments later indicated the task was complete.
“Right, boys” Bill said. “We’re all set.” He quickly donned a pair of black gloves and cleared away the condensation from the windshield in a wide arching motion, revealing the dark outline of a grassy plain with a few trees scattered about. The moon was barely visible through the clouds, producing a rather eerie image before them. In the distance, one solitary light twinkled in the gloom.
“Happy now?” Alf said sarcastically from the front.
“Now listen carefully, boys.” Bill piped up. “There we are, up ahead. We gotta follow this one through fast, no loitering. Tobe, can I trust your intel?”
“Yes, Bill.” he said confidently. “It’s just her, nobody else. Well, except for the cat.” Alf chuckled quietly in the background.
“Thank you, Tobe.”, Bill said, glaring at him through the rear-view mirror. “What would we do without you, eh?”
“It’s OK, Bill. I mean, give him credit for being thorough at least.” Alf interrupted, still smiling.
Bill adjusted the mirror slightly to his left. “Jules, you’re not saying much back there. Everything alright? Is your head straight?”
He looked up dully. “Yeah, I guess so.”
Bill turned around and scowled at Jules. “What’s that supposed to mean? Either you’re one hundred per cent in or you’re one hundred per cent out. It’s that simple. No room for negotiating with your conscience now, you get me? I mean, what’s the problem exactly?” His neck strained uncomfortably, waiting for an answer.
Jules remained composed and resolute. “Well, two houses in one night. It’s a little much, don’t you think? I’d have preferred if we just laid low after that last one.”
He could just make out Bill’s hard facial complexion in their dim, cramped environment. To say the least, he was not too happy to hear that.
“It was an empty house. How anxious can you feel about one empty house? We were in and out of there in less than 10 minutes.” After a brief pause, Jules could see Bill shaking his head disapprovingly in the shadows. “Always the cautious one, Jules. That’s your problem. Doing this type of thing takes balls and confidence. A little "risk assessment" and "risk management", you feel me? For instance, you just gotta look around you here, man. It’s a house in the middle of nowhere whose residents are a cat and an old lady. Does that really scare you that much?”
Alf snickered loudly, trying hard to win brownie points with their designated leader.
Jules bristled. “Well, what if there are more people in there? After all, we are going on Tobe’s information.”
“Hey, what’s that supposed mean?" Tobe said in his own defence.
“Shut up, man!” shouted Bill, glancing quickly in Tobe’s direction before turning back to Jules.
“The intel is fine. You think I’m stupid enough to just go on his word and not get it properly verified?” Bill waited for a response from Tobe, but got none back. “Everything has been double, even triple checked. There’s nothing to worry about. Now, are we straight?”
Jules thought for a brief moment and nodded his head slowly. “Yeah, man. I know you’re someone who plans things out meticulously. It’s just that last job. I can't help thinking we were being watched.”
“What? In the middle of nowhere? We always go for the homes out in the sticks. We target those places specifically so as not to get any comebacks. It’s not rocket science, you know. Now, much as I’m loving sitting here in the dark having a riveting conversation with by lovely compadres, I do need to get some sleep tonight too. So, again. Is your head straight?”
He could feel Bill’s eyes scanning him over in the dark, trying to gauge him. Weighing up the options, Jules realised that he in fact didn’t have any options. There was no turning back from this point. From when he had initially agreed to embark on a life of crime and had sought out and formed these affiliated partnerships, this is who he was. Like it or loathe it, he understood you can’t pick and choose when you wish to lead a lifestyle such as this. Once down the beaten path, there is rarely any turning back. He nodded slowly and said “Yes.”
“Good. Right, then. What about the rest of you? All set?”
Alf looked at him like a deer caught in headlights. “Am I ready? I’ve been waiting for doing the double this whole week! I don’t want this, I need this, Bill.” He looked almost psychotic, exuding so much passion and enthusiasm as he did.
“OK, Alf.” Bill quipped. “Let’s not go overboard now. Just focus on the task at hand and all else will fall into place.” With that, he handed out the phones to each of them and withdrew something from his trouser pocket. A small pocketknife glinted dully in the dark. Everybody the n proceeded to make their final preparations before exiting from the two-door, silver hatchback. Jules pushed forward out of his seat and stepped into the cold, autumn night air.
Bill had previously driven up a dirty stretch of track through a enclosed wooded area, leading up a small hill and parked in a quiet secluded patch just ahead of the proposed target. Jules looked back down the path towards the high road and could see tiny lights flashing in the distance. That would be their escape route after the job was over, he thought. It was something he wanted to get out of the way as fast as possible. A shiver ran up his spine as he could feel the air hanging thick with dread.
He spun around as Tobe almost tripped and fell into a mound of mud on the floor. Bill caught him with one arm just in time, nearly falling over himself. “Steady on there, you fat tub of lard. I told you to get in shape months ago. Sucking down all those greasy hamburgers is messing with our work nights!” Alf could be heard giggling childishly up ahead.
“It's just that there's not enough light, Bill. I’m fit as a fiddle, as they say.” he said sheepishly.
“Fucked as a fiddle more like.” Alf replied casually out of the darkness.
Bill straightened himself out and wiped Tobe’s sweat off his hands on his jacket. He tapped something into his phone which almost immediately produced an intense beam from its backlight. “Alright, enough fun and games already. Follow me, quietly.”
They all converged single file behind Bill and made their way up to a large iron farm gate a few yards up. A narrow concrete pathway adjacent to it proved a major convenience to otherwise struggling over the cumbersome obstacle. The path continued up ahead, straight toward the house. Jules browsed the area on either side of him. A dark expanse of black emptiness engulfed them all, save for the dancing luminescent light source from Bill in front of them.
“Not too far now, people. Just stay close behind.” said Bill in a lowered tone. The ground gradually gave way to become more of a muddy sludge as they made their way up the rough track.
“Man, if I slip and break my back, you guys better carry me back up to the car.” moaned Tobe.
“If we find a spare tractor up ahead, then maybe there's a chance.” laughed Alf, prompting a stifled snigger from Bill as well.
The former speck of a house slowly grew in size before their very eyes. A quaint, thatched farmhouse with faintly square windows and a bright green door could just about be made out at the end of the path.
“Don’t you think we better turn the light down from here? In case we’re spotted by anyone?” Jules asked concerned.
He could hear Bill huff impatiently in the front. “There you go again, man. Always stressing out. I told you, ain’t nobody in there except the lady and the cat. If you can handle that, there's nothing to be scared of. You got it?”
Jules thought it better to just say nothing in case he further antagonised the man in charge of the operation.
As they finally approached the house, Alf spotted a blinking light affixed just next to the first floor bedroom window. “Oh man, you didn’t tell me this bitch had a burglar alarm fitted.”
“That’s because she doesn’t” said Bill assertively. “They only got the light going to scare people off. People like us. It’s just a fake alarm box.” He exhibited a broad smile with a feeling of unabashed pride at his organised heist, however none of the others were aware of it.
The clouds drifted apart slowly to reveal the moonlight, dousing the vicinity with an anaemic, white radiance. As Bill quickly flicked off the phone’s torch, they picked up the pace and walked around the perimeter to the back. The white paint covering the outside of the house emanated an ethereal glow as they stealthily crept down a short tiled pathway toward the small wooden backdoor.
As they arrived, Bill held up a fist signalling for them all to stop. They did so abruptly, with Tobe clumsily shoving up against Alf. He carefully opened his jacket and pulled out a small crowbar. Turning to the others, he put his finger to his lips, glowering at each of them respectively. Then, wedging the bar’s protruding edge in between the door and the skirting, he rocked back and forth rhythmically. The wood groaned under the strain but a few short bursts of pressure applied by Bill and the lock snapped with a muffled "crack".
“OK, boys.” whispered Bill at a barely audible level. “You know what the drill is. Just as we discussed it. I’ve check the alarm on all your phones. It’ll vibrate in your pockets when it’s time to get outta here. Take what you can and remember. Valuable items, the smaller the better.”
They bobbed their heads up and down in agreement, with the exception of Tobe who just stuck his thumb in the air.