Ed let out a sigh of relief as Jas reached the vault. Twenty minutes in—twenty long minutes—and no alarms had gone off, no security had come to check on them. The previous guards had been only too happy to end their shift early, ceding their post to Ed and Jas. Everything was going according to plan.
On the screen, the vault door swung open. Ed suppressed the urge to whistle. The two of them argued sometimes over who was better at breaking into computer systems, but when it came to old-fashioned mechanical locks—supposedly “more secure”—there was no one better than Jas. Which is why Ed was up here at the monitoring station.
For the third time in as many minutes, Ed brought up a listing of processes on the central security computer. Nothing out of the ordinary… good. Meanwhile on the monitor screen, Jas was searching for their prize—military-grade corian crystals. Their client hadn’t told them what they were going to be used for, and Ed hadn’t asked. That was better, in this line of work.
With a sudden twinge of uncertainty, Ed double-checked that the system had stopped recording the cameras and relaxed when he saw everything was working as planned. On the camera, Jas was waving a box. Ed grinned and turned back to the computer screen.
Something flickered. Ed bit his lip and brought the list of running programs back to the front. Nothing out of the ordinary… unless whatever it was was already done. A coil of unease began forming in his gut as he checked the process logs.
“Shit,” Ed mumbled. “Shit shit shit.” He reached into his pocket for his short-range radio and sent Jas a quick series of three clicks, the signal for “get out”.
Jas clicked back a reply, but Ed had already slung his bag over his shoulder. He fought the urge to shut off the computer, which would only leave more of a trail for the police to follow. Instead, he headed for the door.
They were on the road and heading south within three minutes. The police arrived two minutes later.
Jas turned into a quiet suburban neighborhood and flipped on the radio. Ed fidgeted in the passenger seat, twisting his watch back and forth on his wrist. Finally he burst out. “Well?”
“See for yourself,” answered Jas, grinning. Ed reached behind his seat and dragged Jas’s bag up into the front. Impatiently, he tugged at the zipper, and the contents of the bag tumbled out onto the floor of the car.
“Careful!” Jas yelped, and Ed began scooping Jas’s tools back into the bag. In addition to the usual magnets, stethoscope, flash drive, and other odds and ends, there were a number of small cardboard boxes—six of them. Ed carefully opened one, and his face split in a wide grin. Cut and polished azure corian crystals, one in each box.
Ed checked to make sure the windows were up, then let out a loud whoop. Jas joined in, laughing, as they sped down the road.
Eventually, Jas turned onto a side street, and pulled up in front of the sad little converted bed-and-breakfast that was their home. “Hm, that’s strange,” Ed mumbled.
“What is?” Jas turned the car off.
“The lights are on.”
Jas took a look at the windows and frowned. “Huh. So they are. Maybe we’d better leave the stuff in the car.”
Ed pressed his lips together. “You know better than that. They’ll be safer in our safe.”
“No pun intended?” said Jas, raising his eyebrows.
Ed narrowed his eyes at Jas. “I’ll just put ‘em back in the bag.”
Jas shrugged and pulled Ed’s bag from the back of the car, then got out. He looked back at Ed, then headed for the house. Ed quickly stuffed the cardboard boxes back into Jas’s bag and followed.
And almost ran into his partner as Jas stopped just inside the doorway. Ed nudged him aside and saw Ms. Cohen sitting in her big armchair in the front room.
“Good evening,” he said, in what was meant to be a casual tone.
“Good ‘evening’,” she replied with a hint of a smile. “I was wondering whether you boys were coming back tonight.”
“Why are you up this late?” Jas asked politely. Ed could have kicked him.
“The sirens woke me up,” said the landlady, waving a hand, “and I couldn’t get back to sleep. Where were you boys?”
“Midnight Tennis Club,” Ed answered smoothly, indicating his bag. Jas nodded and followed suit.
“How nice! You know, I used to play tennis, when I was younger.” Ed kept the smile fixed on his face. “How did you do?”
“We just started,” Ed replied, before Jas could say anything, “so we didn’t actually finish a game.”
Ms. Cohen blinked and looked surprised for a second, then kept smiling. “Well, keep at it, then.”
“Thanks, Ms. Cohen,” said Jas, yawning. “Good night.”
“Hope you get some sleep,” Ed added.
“Thanks, boys,” said Ms. Cohen, “Good night.”
The two of them climbed up the stairs to their loft. Jas nudged Ed. “Midnight Tennis Club? Really?”
Ed gave him a look and he fell silent. Only after Ed had closed their door did he reply. “Well, I thought it’d explain the tennis racket I bought last week.” Jas shook his head skeptically but Ed continued. “For just this reason.”
Jas opened his mouth, shut it, and nodded, realizing the plan.
“Let’s just get this stuff into the safe,” Ed went on, swinging Jas’s bag over to the picture façade. The face of a Lady Morrisall III frowned at them from the frame as he pulled the picture off the wall. “After this job is done, I’m replacing this old witch.”
Jas knelt and unzipped his bag. “Whatever you want,” he said uncomfortably. “Pretty much all my share’s going to my mom, for her and my sister…”
Ed leaned back and looked at Jas. “Your share?”
Jas looked up at Ed, startled. “Ed—I thought—”
Ed laughed. “I’m just messing with you, Jas. Sheesh… you’d think—”
“Boys? Are you still up?”
Jas froze. Ed looked over to see Ms. Cohen at the door. Surreptitiously he nudged the bag behind where Jas was kneeling.
The landlady smiled. “I just wanted to tell you I’ll be gone for most of tomorrow. So I’ll extend your rent deadline to Saturday.”
Ed smiled back and poked Jas. “Uh, thanks, Ms. Cohen,” he said. “Uh…good night?”
“Good night,” she answered, and left the room, closing the door behind her.
Ed slumped. Jas hurriedly pulled the boxes out of the bag and held one up for Ed to take. “Shit. Do you think she saw anything?”
Ed took the box and pushed it to the back of the safe. “I dunno. Maybe—I didn’t hear her come in,” he said, thinking. “Did you?”
Jas shook his head and handed Ed another box. “Ed…I think she knows.”
“Think about it. If the sirens woke her up, she had maybe ten minutes to try to get back to sleep. That’s not enough time for her to give up, get up, turn on the lights, start reading—”
“You’re paranoid, Jas,” Ed said automatically. “Sure it is.”
“Maybe, but…she’s been watching us before. And”—Jas’s face darkened—“tennis uses ‘set’ or ‘match’, not ‘game’. Games are over like that.” He snapped his fingers.
Ed felt a shiver pass over his body. “I said we were new. And besides, she might not know that—”
“She played when she was young—”
They both fell silent. Jas handed Ed the last box. “Did you lock the door when we came in?” he asked quietly.
“I don’t remember,” Ed said distractedly. “She has a key, anyway.”
“But we would have heard that,” Jas replied.
They were silent for another moment.
“She knows,” Jas said once more, but this time he was sure.
“She suspects,” Ed corrected, but without conviction. He closed the safe and replaced the picture of Lady Morrisall.
“We’re in trouble.”
“We should’ve left the stuff in the car.”
“Yeah, I screwed up.”
“We need to get out of here.”
Jas got up. “She’s gonna go to the police first thing tomorrow—”
”—regardless of whether we’re here or not,” Ed interrupted. “And that gets us caught no matter what.”
“Well, what do we do, then?”
Ed stared at him. “We tie up loose ends.”
Jas stared back, disbelieving, then sat down heavily on the sofa. “You can’t be serious.”
“Look,” Ed insisted, “it’s our only option if we don’t want to leave the city. Possibly our only option, period.”
“Ed, stealing is one thing, but murder?”
Ed shook his head. “She has no family. No close friends. No one will really miss her.”
“And besides,” Ed cut him off, “we need this money. Not just for you, right? What was it you said to me, right after we signed up for this?”
Jas swallowed. “My sister could die without treatment. Yeah. But if we do get caught…”
Ed smiled, though it came out twisted. “You don’t have to worry about that. When I was 12, my brainscan showed ‘unusual scarring in my lower frontal lobe’.”
Ed went on. “Studies have shown that in some cases that can alter judgment outside of the Standard Normal Measure. All I have to do is say that this whole episode is the result of a chemical imbalance and I get off with medical treatment and a couple of years in prison, instead of a life sentence.”
Jas slowly shook his head. “I still can’t do it, Ed.”
“Didn’t I just say you weren’t going to?” Ed ran his fingers through his hair. “I do it, so if it goes wrong, you’ll be okay. And so will your family,” he added, as an afterthought. “But I still want my half when I’m out.”
He kicked off his shoes and continued, shaking his head. “Aren’t I a good partner? You just make sure the deal goes off. I’ll probably disappear for a few days just in case…”
Jas had been staring at a spot on the floor. “No, I still can’t do it, Ed.”
Ed ground his teeth. “Okay, I get it. You’ve got no part in this. Fine with me.” He held up his right hand. “‘No, sir, Jasper Kim wasn’t involved. He actually tried to stop me.’ Happy?”
Jas shook his head, and refused to look at Ed.
Ed folded his arms. “Fine. You don’t have to condone it. But I’m doing what you don’t have the guts to do.” He strode towards his room, but turned back at the door. “I’ll leave you the car. You can still handle the crystals, I hope.”
Jas got up and headed for his own room. Ed sighed and shut the door.
Three days later, Ed was sitting in a Starbucks, a cheap ham-and-cheese croissant on the plate in front of him. He took a sip of his Frappuccino and snagged a newspaper left by a previous patron. As usual, there was an initiative to extend the subway system, a story about some local high school student, and a table showing how much the stock market had lost since yesterday. Ed flipped to the comics. Nothing good there either.
Ed was about to toss the newspaper away when a name on the facing page caught his eye. “Ms. Rebecca Cohen.” He glanced at the top of the page: Obituaries.
Ed felt his mouth twist in a sort of grin. Ms. Rebecca Cohen had indeed had few friends, had not had any immediate family—only a cousin and that cousin’s children. For the most part, the world did not miss her.
Ed refolded the newspaper and downed the last of his Frappuccino. He stood up and headed for the door. It was then that he saw the police car. Ed paused, trying to look casual. Should I go try to find a back exit?
No, if they were here for him that would essentially be an admission of guilt. Better to go out the front door, and hope these cops were just on their coffee break. He pushed the door open and strode out briskly.
The voice came from behind him, and Ed had turned before he realized the mistake. The speaker was a short policeman with brown hair, wearing the sort of sympathetic expression that comes before assigning an unpleasant duty.
Figuring it was too late to pretend otherwise, Ed blinked and tried to look nonchalant. “Yes, officer?”
“Please put your hands behind your back.”
Shit. Slowly, Ed complied, and felt someone snap handcuffs over his wrists. He twisted his head to see a second cop with dark, short-cropped hair.
“Edsel Chang, you are under arrest for the murder of Rebecca Cohen,” the first cop continued, almost regretfully. “You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you—”
“Save it, officer,” Ed interrupted in the same regretful tone. “I’ve seen enough cop shows to know it by heart.”
“He’s a cranial, David,” the second cop said, evidently reading Ed’s records on his pad.
“Right.” The first cop looked back at Ed. “Because of your encephalic abnormality, you’ll have to go through surgery before you’re scheduled to appear in court.”
Ed nodded. A part of him was a little surprised that he didn’t feel more apprehension, didn’t offer more resistance. But he’d always been that way, able to see what needed to be done, without worrying about it. With a good lawyer and the defense of his own physiology, his sentence wouldn’t be nearly as harsh.
“Right, then,” the second cop said as he snapped his pad shut. “Into the car, Mr. Chang.” He seemed to approve of Ed’s cooperation.
Ed turned and started walking.
“He’s waking up.”
Ed rolled his head from side to side.
“Edsel? Edsel, can you hear me?”
What was that voice?
“My name is Dr. Patel. Are you awake?”
Ed opened his eyes. A number of people were standing around him. Doctors, from the look of it. He was in a hospital.
“We’ve just finished the operation on your frontal lobe,” said the doctor. “How many fingers?” He held up his hand.
“Th…three,” Ed said. He wondered what had happened to Jas.
“And your full name?” one of the nurses said.
Ed tried to sit up, but another nurse immediately pushed him back down. “Best to stay lying down for now,” he warned.
Ed tried to figure out how he had gotten here. “Edsel Mkembe Chang,” he recited.
Dr. Patel nodded with evident satisfaction. “Well, it looks like the operation was a success.” The nurses relaxed and began to smile. Ed tried to smile too as he furiously attempted to recall the last week.
And then he remembered. The smile dropped off his face as it came rushing back—that night, the argument with Jas—
”—we managed to reduce it to well within the Standard Norms—chemically you’re now completely normal, and you might even feel a bit better—”
—the murder of Ms. Cohen. Ed lifted his hands, stared at them in horror.