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Taking it Back

(You can listen to this piece on S3E11 of the podcast)

Allison chewed her bottom lip. On her left sat the overnight security guard, Jerry. On her right, a padlocked door to the museum’s special collection. The historical museum’s most valuable wares on display. She was just out of Jerry’s line of sight as she contemplated her next move from the cover of a structural column.

She checked her watch. Eleven o’clock. Time for Jerry to do his rounds, and like clock-work, the elderly man was on his feet headed toward the elevator to start on the 3rd floor. She had eleven minutes to get in and out without getting caught. Allison cracked her knuckles before sprinting to the security desk just seconds after the elevator door dinged closed.

Thirty seconds and the first-floor security cameras were down. She sprinted to the padlocked door, careful not to leave skid marks on the perfectly polished floor that might clue detectives into their thief later. Allison reached the keypad, swiped the ID badge of her fellow co-worker—Stacey Mendez—and punched in the 5-digit access code. She liked Stacey and part of her hated that she’d be a suspect in this crime. Still, Allison knew the charges wouldn’t stick. And by the time they’d suspect Allison of it all, she and her great-grandfather’s blue ceramic bowl would be long gone.       

Allison first spotted the bowl on an 8th grade field trip. She’d known her family history even then. She’d known about her great-grandfather, a Chinese immigrant whose only valuable item in this world was a very large blue ceramic bowl. Not an antique, but a relic of antiquity. No price could be placed on it. But, when the loan shark gave her great-grandfather the choice of his precious bowl or trafficking his first-born son, the choice was obvious, and the bowl was lost for generations. Until Allison saw it on that fateful trip.

Inside the padlocked door was a small room with another padlocked door. Allison again chewed her lip. She’d worked at the museum for nearly a year building trust and casing out the place for the best way to steal back this family heirloom. Only two people on the entire staff had the code to this door. The director and his deputy. The museum director—Carson Miles—was a well-heeled man. Came from a respected family. Knew the innerworkings of the art collecting world. And yet, Allison knew a secret most did not. It was his grandfather who’d stolen the blue ceramic bowl. It was he who’d written “gift from a donor” as the provenance of the art piece.  And Carson Miles, though she could not prove it, he knew. She just knew that he knew.

“Do you have a favorite color, Carson?” Allison had once asked him after a staff meeting.

“Cerulean blue,” he said without pause. “People think purple is a royal color, but I say any shade of blue is the true sign of authority.”

“I can see that. I don’t have a favorite,” Allison said, hoping to sound breezy. “But I do have a favorite number. Eight. Cultural thing I guess.”

Carson had smiled at her like a parent does a child. “Ahh, well it’s such a simple thing to have a favorite number. It’s much more compelling to have a favorite sequence. Some sequences leave impressions for a lifetime.”

“Like Pi,” Allison had said. But Carson had just laughed and collected his belongings.

Allison now stared at this new keypad, this last obstacle before she reached the inner chamber of the museum’s most valuable collection. She could have played the long game of sweet-talking Carson into accidently sharing the code, but the bowl would be sent on loan to a museum in Venice in just two short weeks. And he hadn’t responded to any of her subtle advances. She needed to act now.

She had three tries at a 5-digit code. Her first red denied entry message made her armpits sweat. It was not the first five numerals of Pi. The second wrong guess made her heart quicken triple time. It was not the Fibonacci sequence. She had one more guess. Allison thought to do something juvenile like eenie meenie miney mo, but whispered a prayer to her great-grandfather instead. It’d taken her years of applying to various positions at this museum to get a job. Months to build rapport with the staff. She couldn’t lose everything now.

So she put in the last code she could think of. A number sequence that had certainly left an impression on her for a lifetime. The loan shark, Carson’s grandfather, had referred to Allison’s great grandfather by a number instead of his proper name. Her grandfather had been loanee number 57286. Worth nothing but the debt he owed. Allison regathered herself and typed in the number. Green light.

She was in and out with the bowl nestled in a canvas bag within minutes. She cared nothing about shattering the glass case of its display. Staff wouldn’t see it until the morning anyway. Allison slipped out of the back door just as the ding of the first-floor elevator sounded. Jerry’s careful steps squeaked across the sparkling floor tile. She’d always liked Jerry. Maybe one day he’d learn that justice happened on his watch.


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