Thunder growled, lightning stretched open its white eye, & rain charged down on Boskeopolis for its millionth war on warmth & dryness. ’Course, the moon sat quietly in the corner o’ the sky with a cup o’ cocoa; but nobody e’er notices her ’mong her riotous siblings.
This collective o’ personified environmental elements worked toward 1 purpose—what their purpose always was in the world o’ Boskeopolis: setting the scene for some important event.
In this case, the scene was the street toward 256 NE Conifer Avenue, where Autumn was trudging through the storm, shivering in her tattered coat.
She stopped before the door on the 3rd floor & held a fist up to knock, only to hesitate.
This is the same person who stays up late just to watch TV static or play D&D Monopoly with her naturally-stoned friends. She won’t care.
She knocked. Sure ’nough, a few seconds after, the door opened, ’hind which stood Dawn. Autumn peeked through the hole ’tween Dawn & the doorframe to see Edgar rise from the couch.
“You know you don’t need to knock, ¿right?” Dawn said with a smile.
Autumn stepped forward, wiping her feet on the “Player 1 Start” mat.
“¿You, uh, want me to take your coat?” Dawn asked as she reached a hand out.
“That’s all right. I won’t be long, anyway.”
Autumn walked past her, wrapped her arms round Edgar & kissed him.
“Ooo, ¿are you going heisting?” said Dawn.
Autumn paused to register Dawn’s tone. “Yes.” She turned to Edgar. “¿You busy this night?”
“¿Why would I be busy?” he asked.
“¿Would you like to accompany me on some heists?”
“¿You’re not going to ask if I can come?” asked Dawn.
Autumn turned back to her with high brows. Though Dawn was still smiling, she could see a hint o’ hurt in the corner o’ Dawn’s eyes.
“¿You want to?”
“Uh… if it’s no trouble.” Despite Dawn’s casual tone, her tightly clasped hands & bright eyes revealed the option toward which she was biased.
Autumn thought, Great: ’nother life on my conscience if these ventures spill. ¿But what could I say? ¿“Thanks for all o’ the help, but no, I must refuse you the gift o’ recklessly killing yourself”?
“If you insist,” muttered Autumn. “I must warn you, though, that these heists—we will be committing multiple tonight—will have a mo’…” She turned to Edgar. “¿What was the word you used, Edgar? ¿‘Social’?”
“Right… I remember that conversation,” Edgar said with a frown o’ dread.
“While the literature you begrudgingly showed me did intrigue me somewhat, my main inspiration was a tale I always loved when I was younger.”
“’Robin Hood,’” blurted Dawn.
Autumn turned to her, expression unchanged. “Yes.”
“You ne’er told me you loved that story,” said Edgar.
Autumn turned back to him. “Seemed obvious. ’Sides, I hadn’t truly read the story since long before I met you. Not since I was 13 a’latest.”
“So you’re going to steal from the rich & give to the poor. ¿Didn’t you already do that?” asked Dawn.
“This time it’ll be done mo’ conspicuously… & mo’ targeted.”
“¿Gainst whom?” asked Dawn.
“I have a few in mind…”
Dawn’s eyes suddenly lit.
“Ooo. ¿Do we get to have special costumes?”
Autumn aimed a petulant glance in Dawn’s direction.
“We’ll need them, yes. Edgar helped me make a few for us.”
Edgar’s head straightened in realization.
Autumn paced round the room with her hands tied ’hind her back, her upper body stooped forward.
“I think we made 2 extra, just in case, but you can use 1. But we must change somewhere else; we can’t let anyone see us leave this building with these costumes on, or they’ll be able to trace us.”
The 3 crept out the front door & down the stairs o’ the apartment building, keeping in the patches o’ shadows as much as they could. Each creak o’ rotten wood under each footstep sounded like piercing sirens, causing Autumn’s eyes to dart in every direction.
Autumn led them a few blocks ’way—just ’nough to distance them from Dawn’s apartment—& into a dark alley, where they changed into their costumes, Autumn hiding their old apparel in her pockets to stow somewhere else.
They emerged from the city’s catacombs & into the lemon light o’ the streetlamps. All were wrapped in thick green hoodies, faces shrouded under hoods, legs covered with tinted tights & hands with rubber gloves so that no skin showed.
With all preparations finished, they scampered down the streets toward their 1st target.
4203 W. Golden Delicious. Here lay a 3-story white house on the edge o’ the beach off Fountainhead lake from the front, a wide acre o’ fine-mowed grass & curling lakes @ the back, all surrounded by a cold black gate.
Here lived Fred Walton Henderson, president o’ Henderson inc., the most prolific service business in Boskeopolis, & controller o’ Boskeopolis’s most popular chains, including FredMart & McCheesy’s. When confronted by the media ’bout the recent study showing the need for the average FredMart or McCheesy’s employee to rely on welfare to make a living, he replied that they should get ’nother job & stop wasting money on pointless luxuries like heating or food.
The Hooded Robins, as Autumn had dubbed them, hid in the bushes just ’hind Henderson’s property while Autumn peered round the perimeter for signs o’ activity. The area looked dim as a chasm; ’less 1 o’ the Hendersons enjoyed sitting or lying silently in the dark, everyone was inside or ’way.
They crept out toward the gate—but not going so far as to touch it. Autumn had already tested it a few days ago by throwing a squirrel @ it & found that ’twas alarmed.
There they formed a human pyramid with Autumn @ the top, reaching high ’nough for her feet to easily rise ’bove the top o’ the gate. When she saw this, she begrudgingly admitted her gratitude for bringing Dawn, since it made this heist much simpler: all she had to do for this 1st part was hop o’er.
She had them form the pyramid near a large oak on the inside corner o’ the property so she could hide near it. Though she doubted the crunch o’ her shoes gainst the grass when she landed from her high leap would be loud ’nough to reach any other human’s ears, she wanted to be perfectly sure. To avoid failure, every possibility must be accounted for.
When she confirmed the lack o’ notice as practically as possible, she went round the gate, watching it closely for signs o’ a big black block that would be the switch. When she found it, she clicked on her tiny flashlight & peered into it.
She knew someone could easily spot her with the light on, as if she were putting the prison spotlight on herself; but she also knew that some risks had to be taken to succeed in the 1st place.
On the face o’ the switch were a square o’ #’d buttons. She knew she could ne’er guess the password; but she didn’t need to: she pulled out her screwdriver & unscrewed the screws on the back, carefully avoiding bumping the gate with the screwdriver’s back. When she finally removed the back plate, she slipped out her scissors & slowly snipped the wires.
She returned to her tree hiding spot & touched the gate.
Not a sound was made.
She turned back to Edgar & Dawn, who were still waiting quietly by, & whispered, “OK, you can climb up now.”
They did so, & soon joined Autumn, climbing all the way down to avoid making the same loud sound Autumn made landing.
Now she just needed to surpass the barriers ’tween her & inside the house itself. In this case, her plan was to climb up to the chimney & slide in as the Santa Marx. The problem: said chimney was all the way on the 3rd-floor roof. Not e’en a 3-person human pyramid could reach that.
The good news was that the whole house wasn’t 3 stories; just the main middle part, while the sides & edges were only 2 & e’en 1 story. Thus, Autumn used her partners to reach a 1-story-high roof. From there, she used window sills as stepping stones to reach higher parts o’ the roof till she managed to scramble up to the top.
But when she stared into each chimney, she saw an extra complication: both were lit. Luckily, she had anticipated this problem & devised a simple solution: she extracted a water bottle & poured its content down the chimney, dousing the fire into sizzling smoke.
From that point all she had to do was clasp her rope hook onto the edge o’ the chimney, let the rest o’ the rope unravel down its gullet, & then climb down.
To her relief, she failed to see any light grow from below; & when she did reach the bottom, she confirmed the lack o’ lights in the living room. She crept to the nearest window, shifted its lock, & slowly slid it open, turning her head back as it ground gainst its frame, wary o’ waking residents.
When she neither saw a head poke out nor heard whispered questions, she climbed out the window & went round the house for Edgar & Dawn. When she saw them, she waved them toward her & climbed back into the window while Dawn & Edgar waited just outside.
Autumn extracted her flashlight & waved it round the room, searching for the most valuable objects she could carry. All o’ the lit fragments together formed the picture o’ a large anteroom with a large exotic rug in the middle, paintings on the walls, & a widescreen TV that almost covered the entire back wall. She picked up some video game system plugged into the TV, all o’ the paintings, & the trophies & vases strewn round the room. She headed back to Dawn & Edgar, only to turn round & put the trophies back.
¿What am I thinking? I can’t sell something so personal—I might as well wear a sign that says, “I robbed Fred Henderson.”
She handed the objects she did take to Edgar & Dawn, & then looked round the room for an area someone was guaranteed to see. She stopped before the TV & taped a piece o’ paper o’er the front.
Next, Autumn headed up the stairs, her nerves standing up @ every creak that she was sure would wake everyone. When she reached the 2nd floor, she tried the 1st door, opening it a crack.
The only break in the black inside was the tiny glow @ the other end; the only sound was soft snoring. She crept near it to discover ‘twas an iPhone. She pocketed it.
She held her breath & then flicked on the flashlight, moving it round the room much mo’ carefully for fear o’ accidentally aiming it right into a sleeping inhabitant’s eyes. She started with the inhabitant himself, whom she could easily find through the noise. She cast her beam near the bed—but not directly on it—lighting it by the beam’s edges. In the bed she saw whom she estimated was Henderson’s son—a young boy who appeared to be in his late teens.
Lucky for her, he didn’t wake. She looked round the rest o’ the room & found yet ’nother game system, as well as a laptop & iPod, to swipe. All else she saw were clunky sports equipment that wouldn’t be worth the load.
She started half-opening the draws o’ his nightstand, shoving the flashlight far back inside & pointing it ’way from the boy. She was soon grateful for doing this, for as she started lightly moving objects round inside to better search, she heard a groggy voice whisper, “¿What are you doing? You’re not actually checking my drawer for condoms, ¿are you? You’re kidding me.”
Autumn yanked her hands out as quietly as she could & slowly stepped backward toward the door. She heard a click, & then saw a light explode open next to the bed. Autumn turned her head to the side, glad that the lamp’s light radius didn’t go far.
“I know you’re there,” he said.
Autumn carefully opened the door. As she slipped out, she heard him mutter, “This is so ridiculous,” & heard him click the lamp off ’gain.
She carefully rushed back down to the window & handed Dawn & Edgar her new goods, as well as 2 burlap sacks in which to carry them.
“Hey, ¿you mind if I come with you for the next part?” whispered Dawn.
Autumn gumboed o’er the idea. Though she could a’least see 1 advantage—mo’ hands to carry mo’ goods in the immediate area—she also saw many disadvantages, the most notable being her doubt that Dawn could be sufficiently stealthy while roaming through these rooms.
“¿Why? There’s not much interesting to it; we just go into rooms, search round, steal valuables that are small ’nough to carry, & then leave.”
“Yeah, I guess you’re right…”
But Autumn could hear sadness in her voice, as well as shivering in the cold rain.
Technically, this heist has already succeeded, so long as these 2 don’t screw up so much as to lose the bags or get caught.
“All right,” Autumn whispered grudgingly; “but you must be absolutely quiet. Not e’en a whisper. Also, give me your bag.”
“Got it.” Dawn unslung the bag from her shoulder & handed it to Autumn.
As Autumn hung it o’er her own shoulder, she turned to Edgar & asked, “¿You want to come in, too?”
“That’s all right.”
“¿You sure? ¿You sound cold?”
“I’ve been through much worse.”
“If you say so.”
They climbed back in & up the stairs. This time Autumn checked the door on the other side o’ the last room she checked, only to see that ’twas only a bathroom.
Still, she quickly scoured it for possible valuables. Seeing none, she pulled out & tried the next door, only to see that that was just a closet.
¿How big is this family? ¿Do they truly need a house so big?
Once ’gain Autumn searched for valuables, & once ’gain she found nothing worth taking.
Finally, she found ’nother bedroom, whose resident this time was a young girl whose age appeared to be round pre-teenish.
She put her flashlight down, only to abruptly feel poking to her shoulder. She turned to see that ’twas Dawn, who was now pointing out the door. Since Autumn had already planned to take Dawn out to discuss their plan, she shrugged & led them outside.
“Here’s what we’ll do,” whispered Autumn, glancing round for signs o’ residents waking. “You keep an eye on the kid. Make sure you don’t shine the light directly on her, but just to the side, so that only the edges o’ the light reveal her…”
“You’re not actually planning on robbing the daughter, ¿are you?” said Dawn.
“¿Why not? I already robbed their son.”
“Autumn… I thought you were just going after the father. You can’t blame the children for that.”
“It’s not blaming; it’s theft. Look, a heist is a heist. ¿You think I worry ’bout everybody who might be affected by every robbery I commit?”
“You said this was different—that ’twas ‘social,’ or whatever.”
Autumn paused, frowning.
“You know, what we’re taking is only a tiny fraction o’ what they have. ¿You truly think they can’t just buy this junk back later?”
“Well… You didn’t take anything personal or irreplaceable, ¿did you?” asked Dawn.
“I just took a couple electronics.”
“¿How should I know? I didn’t sit there checking the brand & model. I took what I guessed was a cell, a system, & a laptop.”
Dawn looked aghast, as if Autumn said she’d taken a kidney.
“¿What if he has important files on them?” asked Dawn.
Autumn’s eyes widened with a mix o’ exasperation & surprise @ the fact that this conversation was continuing.
“He should’ve backed them up,” Autumn said.
The expression Dawn wore told her she wouldn’t e’en rent this ’scuse.
“Look, the less we get, the less starving children get,” said Autumn. “That’s a li’l mo’ significant than preserving this kid’s precious porn collection.”
“Fine. But when we get back I’m going through his stuff, putting all o’ his files on a disk, & giving it to them.”
“& we’re not robbing the daughter.”
Autumn sighed. “¿Why did I bring you?”
But she went on to the next door, ne’ertheless, where she finally found the parents’ room—& what a spectacle it was. ‘Twas a’least 6 times as big as each kid’s room & full o’ glass decoration that sparkled under Autumn’s beam—pretty, but probably not worth much. What did look valuable were the ancient vases, cat ornaments, & other trinkets, which Autumn rapidly tossed into her sack as if she were on Buyer’s Bacchanalia.
Meanwhile, Dawn kept her beam ’bove & ’tween the 2 in bed, shaking from a strange mix o’ fear & giddiness. ‘Twas hard not running up to Autumn & telling her to run every time she saw 1 o’ the Hendersons turn.
’Ventually, she did see Fred sit up a li’l & heard him mumble, “Daniel, ¿are you trying to sneak money out o’ my drawers ’gain?”
Dawn immediately clicked off her light & ran out the door. Autumn tossed the object she had in her hand in the sack & began quickly tiptoeing toward the door.
“¿What? ¿What’s going on?” he muttered mo’ loudly.
When Autumn exited, she broke into a ran, clambering down the stairs with li’l care for who heard; she’d already heard Dawn do the same just earlier, anyway.
“¡’Scape!” Dawn whispered as she jumped out the window. Edgar joined her race, & Autumn caught up just a li’l later. All 3 turned their heads ’hind them to see if anyone followed, but nobody did.
They didn’t stop to catch their breaths till they were a’least a few blocks ’way, hidden in a dark alley, where they returned to their Clark Kent selves.
‘Twas his maid who alerted Sir Henderson o’ the note left on the television.
His voice slowed in bewilderment as he read it. “Dear Sir Fred Walton Henderson, President o’ Henderson inc.: we here @ Hooded Robin inc. are proud to announce you as the 1st customer. We offer only the best in the service o’ robbery—as you may have seen by the work we’ve already offered completely free. We only offer from our sincere gratitude @ the great work you—& your fellow moguls we’ll offer our services to soon—have done running Boskeopolis’s economy. Since you work so hard, we’ve decided to help you, so we’re taking the time to redistribute some o’ your profits to where it truly belongs. Regards, the Hooded Robins.” He dropped the note. “¿What is this nonsense?” He swung out o’ bed, alarmed to see many o’ his favorite ornaments missing.
“¡O my god! ¡Those… those thugs better not have hurt my children!”
Suddenly, his son walked in.
“¿Was it you or mom who took all my electronics? You know, I still need some o’ that for school…”
Henderson rushed to his son & wrapped his arms round him, causing his son’s eyes to widen in awkwardness.
“O, good… You’re OK…” murmured Henderson. He released his son & turned to the door. “We must see if your sister’s OK.”
“Dad, ¿what’s going on?”
“We’ve been robbed.”
His son followed him, holding up a CD. “¿Then why was this disk left on my nightstand with a note that said, ‘Sorry for stealing your stuff. Nothing personal, but I backed up any files I thought were important/personal. If I missed something, just give a public mention o’ it,’ & then a smiley face?”
Sir Henderson frowned. “We’re clearly dealing with deranged maniacs. Damn it, ¿wasn’t that clown Chamsby s’posed to be increasing protection in Boskeopolis?” He rummaged through his robe pockets. “Where is my phone. I’d like to give him an earful…”
Saffron Apartments, located in downtown Western Boskeopolis, the commercial capital o’ Boskeopolis, where the lights are always on, day or night. In room 705 dwells William R. Fellow, CEO o’ Fellow Corp & infamous Boskeopoleon mogul, owner o’ 2 network stations, as well as a few cable & premium channels, & almost 30% o’ Boskeopoleon newspapers, including The Boskeopoleon Daily & Vapid.
Thunder snapped like broken twine on ’nother night; rain clattered gainst the building’s brick walls as shattered glass.
That wasn’t all that touched these walls: the Hooded Robins’ feet also scraped gainst 1 side as they climbed Autumn’s rope hook.
Autumn had her head turned toward the windows, counting each row in her head.
…5… 6… 7. Here it is.
Peeking in @ an angle through the side, she could see that ’twas dark inside.
Autumn raised her fist, revealing to the reader a sharp diamond ring. She scraped this round the window, creating a large square pattern. When she finished, she held her hand up to catch it from falling.
As she leaned in to quietly set it down on the carpet inside, she heard muffled noises from the inside, which caused her to panic.
A female voice grunted, “¿What’s that noise?”
Autumn looked down @ Dawn just below her & poked downward frantically. They both climbed down to the windows just below & waited.
When no head poked out within the next few minutes, they resumed climbing & snuck in through the window. But as Autumn wrenched out her flashlight, she heard the muffled moans return.
O, shit… I don’t think they’re sleeping, thought Autumn.
So far neither had seemed to catch her, which dropped her into a dilemma: ¿should she continue the heist & hope neither hear her or should she just leave & try ’nother night? The former’s prospect o’ success seemed low, but the latter would make this whole venture so far a waste o’ time.
Meanwhile, Dawn stood round, wondering if Autumn wanted them to leave after hearing the sounds herself. She couldn’t see Autumn move or make any signal—though ‘twas much too dim to see if she was, anyway.
Autumn carefully stepped through the room, feeling round for any drawers, only to accidentally cause something to tip back & forth, its vaselike bottom swiveling round as it returned to its place, making loud swishing sounds.
“I swear I keep hearing something,” the female voice whispered ’gain. “Turn on the lights & see what it is real quick.”
An older, male voice sighed, & then the light flashed on, temporarily blinding the Hooded Robins. However, while the woman yelled, “¿What the hell?” as she ducked down further, covering herself with the blanket, Fellow simply rubbed his eyes with his hands & sighed.
“You’ll ne’er give me peace, ¿will you?”
“¿What do these thugs want with us?” asked the woman, squeaky with fear.
Dawn & Edgar didn’t wait for Autumn to give them the signal ’fore jumping out the window & furiously climbing back down. This was good, as Autumn ne’er planned to give them 1. ’Stead, she quickly gazed round the room & then ran up & swiped bunch o’ electronics, followed by taking all o’ the portraits from the walls.
Fellow raised his voice. “¿What do you think you’re doing? ¿You think you can just take that stuff & auction it off however you please?”
“¿What do they want with you?” the woman squeaked ’gain.
Autumn tossed a folded sheet onto Fellow’s lap & fled out the window.
“¿What is this?” Fellow muttered as he unfolded the paper. His tired eyes scanned down it, becoming starker as he finished.
He heard something move to his right. He turned & saw his partner pick up her shirt. When their eyes met, she said tepidly, “I… I think I have to go now.”
Fellow didn’t reply. He knew it’d be futile after the numerous times this had happened before ’cause o’ some insomniac reporter—& now he had some whackjobs after him.
The 18th consecutive rainy night in Boskeopolis had lightning so fierce it caused Atlas Tower’s clean ivory to glow gainst the black sky. On the 2nd-highest floor1 sat its mayor in his puffy red leather throne, turned ’way from the front door & toward the wide window on the back wall. He stared off @ the showering moon—causing said moon to blush, mortified—while he slowly stroked his pet gold nugget sitting in his lap.
His peaceful ruminations were tossed off his plate when he heard the door burst open ’hind him, & 1 o’ his lackeys shout, “¡Mayor Chamsby! ¡We have urgent news!”
The room continued to ring with the echoes o’ the door’s creak & the slam o’ its knob gainst the wall.
“Well, ¿what’s the news then? ¿Or is it just the fact that you have news that’s so intriguing?” Lance craned his neck o’er the side o’ his chair’s back.
Agent Purple Mountain’s Majesty blurted, “O… Uh… Sirs Henderson & Fellow say some vigilante group called the ‘Hooded Robins’ have robbed them. Both left notes announcing their goals to steal from rich people & give to the poor.”
“¿Is that so?” said Lance, voice deepening as his throat filled with bile, his hand clasping the arm o’ his chair till it flushed full white.
“Yes, Sir. That’s why I said it.”
“Well then, this kind o’ villainy can’t be allowed to persist.”
“¿You want me to alert the BPD & tell them to put a search out for them? Fellow gave me their description.”
“¿O truly? ¿& what is that description?”
“They all covered with green hoodies, completely concealing their faces.”
“¿That’s all? ¿What were their voices? ¿Their odors?”
“He, uh… he didn’t say. Apparently, none o’ them spoke.”
“Hmm… Well, tell the police that if they do find them, bring them to me so I can deal with them personally.”
“Um, Sir, I think that’s unconstitutional.”
“That applies to those who are not a threat to national security.”
“But Sir, all they’ve done so far is break into people’s houses; there’s been no evidence that they’re terrorists or anything.”
“The moral system they’re trying to force on Boskeopolis is far mo’ destructive than mere bombs could e’er be, & it’s a vile myth to pretend that the moral destitution that causes theft is somehow separate from that which causes terrorism,” said Chamsby. “Now, do it. None o’ those spineless ministers or judges would dare get in my way, lest they reveal to the public on which side their sympathies truly lie.”
The lackey nodded. “Yes, Sir.”
Then he turned & left.
Chamsby began drumming his fingers together.
“’Course, I know those tax-wasting cops won’t be able to catch them. Only the work o’ a capable individual o’ excellent moral fiber could—me.”
He rose & walked into his closet, flinging off his cloak & hat & donning an independence-blue business suit & matching Panama hat, as well as a flat, empty mask, matching his skin color so that he appeared to have no face @ all.
He stepped out with 1 wide step, door flung open, & said, “This looks like a job for the Answer.”
“All right: I think I’ve gotten it to fit now,” Autumn said as she scooted the chair back in. But she continued to examined it, still unsure o’ how noticeable ’twas. “I’ll gradually sell this off within the next month or so @ various stores & in various garbs.”
“¿So that’s it?” asked Dawn.
“For tonight. There’s still 1 mo’ heist I want to do ’nother night.” Autumn turned to face Dawn, but her eyes were aimed diagonally @ the floor. “You 2 may want to skip it, however.”
“¿Why? ¿How could it be worse than the last 2?”
“Our next target is the big 1. Unquestionably the biggest corporation in Boskeopolis.”
“¿What Boskeopoleon corporation could be bigger than Henderson inc.?”
Autumn’s mouth twisted into a smile.
“The Boskeopoleon government.”
Atlas Tower looked like Frankenstein’s lightning rod that stormy night as the last ferry neared the edge o’ its island.
Autumn watched the clock on her phone closely as the 3 Hooded Robins hid in the closet ’hind a pile o’ brooms & boxes. She’d calculated that it’d take approximately 20 minutes to make it. Round the 22nd, they felt the kinetic energy under their feet slow to a stop.
Autumn looked @ Dawn & put a finger o’er her mouth ’fore creeping through the detritus in front o’ them. She waited for the others joined her ’fore she turned the knob & opened the door a crack. She saw & heard no one. She opened it wider & still saw no one.
She waved toward her & then ran o’er to the edge o’ the ferry & climbed down into the black river. She knew this wasn’t purely a reflection o’ the night’s darkness: an unofficial alias for the Fountainhead was the “Oil Ocean Zone.”
When they reached the bottom, Autumn whispered directly into Dawn’s ear, “¿Can you hold your breath well?”
“Well, try to keep below the surface till you hear the ferry begin to move.”
Dawn nodded & they all held their breaths & dived underwater, Autumn holding Edgar in 1 arm so that he didn’t sink to the bottom.
Unfortunately, the ferry lingered longer than Autumn’d expected, & minutes later her lungs were full o’ so much pressure that they felt as if they were ’bout to pop. Judging that they’d likely drown ’fore the ship left, she resurfaced with Edgar, but still controlled her breathing so as not to attract attention with loud gasps.
But when she saw that Dawn had not surfaced yet, she began to frantically scramble through the water for her, only to find that she was still just under the surface. ’Pon resurfacing, Dawn was less successful @ controlling her breathing, full o’ wheezing & coughing.
“Sorry… I kept thinking… the ferry might leave any minute now,” Dawn said as she held her aching head.
Autumn put a finger to her mouth & waved toward her as she swam toward land. Dawn followed.
She aimed for the closest bushes & quickly crept ’hind them after reaching land. Autumn waited by the edge & watched for the ferry to depart, shivering from the water still soaking her costume—supplemented by the pouring rain—rawing her body to the cold.
She waited a full 5 minutes after the ferry left ’fore continuing through the bushes toward Atlas Tower.
She stopped just @ the end & turned back to Edgar & Dawn.
“You remember what we planned, ¿right?” she whispered.
They both nodded.
“¿& you think you guys’ll be able to handle it?”
They nodded ’gain.
Autumn turned back to Atlas Tower, waited a beat, & then stood & walked toward the front door. She pulled on the door handle. It opened.
Just as I thought.
Just as she crossed the threshold, she heard a siren go off & saw Lance’s familiar crayon-named henchmen in golden tuxedos & white-and-red drama masks pile down the bent stairs. As they did, she pulled a crossbow out from the back o’ her jacket & began shooting tranquilizer arrows @ them. They were so surprised by it that their steady stream clogged into a confused mess, with some trying to run back up & others falling o’er into unconsciousness from being shot.
& yet, her attention being divided by 2 streams slowed her, allowing a few to slip by. ’Ventually, ’nough o’ them were able to that 1 was able to shove her o’er from the side & hold her crossbow down.
“I am dearly sorry, M—”
She kicked him in the shin just before sweeping his legs, causing him to topple o’er. She quickly plugged an arrow in him, for she could see the still-awake guards beginning to crowd.
She stood & scampered toward the least-occupied stair, only to feel a leather hand clutch her ankle & trip her. She grabbed an arrow & stabbed his hand with it.
By that time, 3 guards were already there & began piling o’er her like American football players, but with a cacophony o’ apologies:
“So sorry, Madame.”
“You know how this job can be.”
“I hope you don’t find this too uncomfortable. It shouldn’t be too long if you quit struggling.”
“’Scuse me, Madame, but could you release this crossbow, please. Hey, Agent Atomic Tangerine, could you help me here?”
They all crowded round her left arm, Atomic Tangerine sitting on her back so she couldn’t get up. Unluckily for them, however, they left her right arm free, which she used to dig through her pockets & bring out a tranquilizer needle.
Before any o’ them noticed she had it, she’d already knocked off 2 o’ them, leaving only Agent Razzmatazz to jump back in panic. But as he tried running ’way, she plugged an arrow into his back & caused him to collapse into unconsciousness like all o’ the others.
The lobby was quiet ’gain, filled with just Autumn & piles o’ sleeping bodies crowding the stairs & floor. She climbed the closest stair, careful not to step on any o’ the fallen guards & wake them up.
’Hind the double doors on the 2nd floor was a long hallway with the same gold-&-silver tile floor & tan drywall as the lobby. As she surveyed the doors, 1 o’ them caught her eyes immediately: ’twas covered in chains & padlocks with a white sign that said in bold black letters, “ENTRANCE PROHIBITED.”
She glanced in both directions & kept her ears perked for any interruptions, though she doubted she’d find any. Then she pulled out a lighter & lit a link on the chains till it glowed red while she sawed it till it broke. She stowed her tools back into her pack & unraveled the ring round her index finger to produce a hairpin, which she used in the lock. Unsurprisingly, ’twas easy to unlock.
She went inside & clicked on the light. ’Twas a closet-sized room holding just a pile o’ bags, all with labels that said, “PROPERTY OF THE BOSKEOPOLEON GOVERNMENT. THEFT IS A SERIOUS CRIME.”
Nice o’ him to pack them up so conveniently. He certainly thought everything through.
She didn’t bother checking them. She merely slung a couple bags o’er her shoulders & ran back out to the hallway. She didn’t e’en flinch when she turned for the door back to the lobby & saw a figure in a business suit & Panama hat standing there with his arms tied ’hind his back. His face was covered in some white cloth.
She remained silent, the smile she wore completely concealed by her hood. Her feet clamped to the floor, ready for anything.
“I thought you couldn’t resist taking your antihuman ideology to its full political extent,” said Lance, his voice somewhat muffled by his mask. “I knew you could ne’er be satisfied with your petty thefts—which were only small portions o’ an o’erall efficient capitalist system. No, you knew the only way your vile dream could come true would be to o’erthrow the political system that protected this rational system & replace it with your own deranged creation—to steal the economic system itself.”
He began walking forward; Autumn began walking backward.
“¿What’s the matter? ¿Can’t speak for yourself? ¿D’you also need someone else to do the work your larynx is too lazy to do?” said Lance.
They continued their slow walk in the same direction & in corresponding steps, as if they were magnets o’ the same charge.
Then, suddenly, Autumn swung round & scampered ’way. Lance ran after.
“Try to run all you might,” Lance said with heavy breaths; “you can’t run from truth—you can’t run from the Answer.”
This li’l cock must’ve spent days preparing these cute li’l quotes, Autumn thought with the widest smile she’d probably e’er had—good thing her face was concealed. E’en for the usual physical exertion, her heart was beating excitedly.
@ the end o’ the hall she saw an elevator. Her head vacillated ’tween it & Lance ’hind her. She had to time it just right.
She slowed her running just ’nough to make her timing right, but not so much that Lance would notice, & stopped on a penny right in front o’ the elevator door. She counted a second ’fore pressing the up button & waited as she heard the elevator door revving. She could also hear Lance’s footsteps grow.
The elevator dinged & its door slid open. She rushed inside & made for the controls, only for Lance to force himself inside ’fore she could close the door.
He stood right in front o’ the door as it slid closed ’gain. She could feel the floor below her feet gently shake, feel all o’ her nerves falling as if the floor ’neath them fell.
She could hear Lance panting & wheezing. Doesn’t exercise much, I’d surmise, she thought.
She leaned gainst the railing on the back wall as she stared @ Lance.
¿How’s he see through that cloth, anyway? she wondered.
When he’d recovered his breath, he stood up straight & said, “So, you thought you could ’scape so easily…”
’Gain, Autumn said nothing.
He walked toward her.
“Well, it appears there’s nowhere you can ’scape now. I told you that the Answer always catches up ’ventually, & now we see that the answer to all o’ your crimes has finally caught up to you.”
Lance put a hand in his suit & pulled out his personal ingot, 13 kg. He held it ’bove his head.
“With this gavel formed from the center o’ value, justice shall be enact—¡Oof!”
He felt the padded weight punch him in the chest, followed by the wall o’ steel smacking his back, ’fore his eyes remembered the flash o’ tan.
“Your money’s too slow,” Autumn said as she returned the sack to her shoulder.
Lance laughed. She figured he couldn’t resist.
“O, but I might as well admit it now,” said Lance. “I’m ’fraid you’re stuck with only fiat currency in those bags.”
“’Course it is: you labelled it the “government’s property,” after all. Looters don’t have property; ¿isn’t that right?”
“No, I mean that money you hold o’er your shoulders is fake. Check it for yourself.”
Autumn nodded. “Sure, I could use a good laugh.”
She dropped the bags & opened 1. Inside she saw a mix o’ white, pink, yellow, green, blue, beige, & orange papers. She picked on up & examined it.
“Mmm… Monopoly money. Classic.”
“That’s right. I knew you wouldn’t e’en take the minimal effort to check the bags ’fore you ran off with it. It’s 1 o’ the many reasons looters ne’er succeed in the end.”
“It’s true that successful looting does take mo’ work than one might expect.”
“& this isn’t that.”
She heard a ding. The door slid open.
“Mmm. If you’ll ’scuse me, this is my stop.”
Lance jumped in front o’ the door with his hands stretched out.
“I’m ’fraid you’re not going anywhere,” he said.
Autumn didn’t move. She merely crossed her arms.
“You only delay the inevitable,” she said.
Lance held his ingot-hand back like a pitcher.
“Don’t worry; I’ll speed things up for you.”
He swung his arm, throwing the nugget @ her face, only for her to grasp it in midair.
“Thanks, mate,” she said as she pocketed it.
“¡Ooo!” Lance’s arms fell to his sides, fists shaking.
She raised a knee so that her foot was gainst the back wall. Lance ran @ her with an arm pulled back to punch. She sprung off her foot toward the perpendicular wall on the left, causing Lance’s punch to hit the back wall ’stead.
As Lance sucked his lips in & massaged his hand, he saw Autumn jogging ’cross the roof outside the elevator door. He chased her outside, the clean light replaced by the dark visual sludge o’ rain, clouds, & concrete.
Autumn knew she wouldn’t have time to set up the rope for climbing down, so she stopped near the middle o’ the roof & paced sideways, always turned to Lance. Though he tried following her @ the same speed, they were always separated by the same length o’ space as if they were in a Chinese torture trap, unable to depart & unable to get closer.
“So here we are: the climax. The point where the queen o’ looters finally takes her place within the pantheon o’ the 99% so they can try & fail to drag the 1% down with them,” said Lance.
“¿Why bother? ¿How much lower could the ‘1%’ stoop?” asked Autumn. “’Sides, I always prefered to think o’ myself as the 0%, personally.”
Lance stepped forward. “It’s finally time to rid the world o’ thieving ants like you so the people who work can finally get the proceeds they’ve created.”
Autumn remained still. “That would also require getting rid o’ ants like you who extort a percentage from the people who work for using property your great grandparents stole.”
“¡Admit it!” Lance thundered as he raised a fist. “¡The market is the most meretricious system in the world!”
“I agree wholeheartedly.”
Lance began to run in 1 direction, & then suddenly twisted in the other, so fast that Autumn barely noticed till he’d already grasped her by the neck & shoved her down to the ground. She replied by slamming her fist into the side o’ his face, knocking him off her, as well as producing a jagged-edged red cloud with the bold word, “¡BAM!”
As she rose, her hood fell backward off her head. Within a second, hair had darkened & splayed, glasses covered in beads. Within li’l mo’ than a second, Lance clutched 1 o’ her shins & twisted it, only for her to kick him in the jaw, causing his Panama hat & mask to fall off.
Both fell & resumed trading blows till Lance had a black eye & Autumn had a bloody nose.
’Ventually, however, when Lance managed to tackle her to the ground, she felt her hands pulled ’hind her & tight steel tighten round them. She tried pulling her arms apart, but they wouldn’t budge. While she was doing that, she felt the same metal coil round her ankles.
She felt the neck o’ her hood pull her up & then drop her with her back gainst the rail. She looked up & saw the same tissue-faced marauder standing ’bove her.
Though he was close ’nough for her to be able, she figured kicking him backward would be purposeless.
“I think we’ve finished our games now,” Lance said as he continued to rub the side o’ his face.
Autumn smiled, still sniffing to stop the blood from leaking down her nose. Lance’s eyes deepened in hatred.
“¿& I s’pose you think something’s funny ’bout my threats? Well, I can assure you, I have e’en mo’ efficient ways to handle criminals than ingots.”
He reached into his suit & this time extracted a pistol.
“E’en if you kill me, I’ve still won,” said Autumn.
“O, here’s the best part: you know, I know it’s a cliché that supervillains tell their evil plans, but I can understand the sentiment now—’specially since this time it truly is unbeatable.”
“¿What is it?” demanded Lance, putting his gun down, seemingly losing interest in shooting her.
“So, you see, the best way to beat people is to screw their weaknesses gainst them—& I meticulously planned this heist to do that to you.”
Lance huffed his chest with his fists on his sides. “¿& how is that?”
“Well, let me just say that in life I’ve learned there’s 1 benefit to hippie collective action.”
“I’m sure you would.”
“& that benefit is dividing the human eggs o’ one’s heist into multiple baskets so that one’s failure doesn’t lead to the heist’s failure.”
Lance’s eyes screwed in confusion. “¿What?”
“Lance, ¿do you know what my role in this heist was?”
Lance’s eyes widened.
“¿You think I didn’t know those bags weren’t fakes? Come on. You made it too obvious. Any thief knows that a door so conspicuously locked with a big sign that says ‘Don’t steal from me,’ is just a red light telling her to do so. & the fact that they were already in bags. Why not just put a huge sign that says, ‘This is where the character Autumn Springer steals the money.’
“But what you failed to realize was that I too am the conspicuously fake thief. I was almost ’fraid you’d figure that out, actually. Surely you saw me take out all o’ your minions with my crossbow. ¿Why not do the same to you?
“So I could distract you all the way up here while the true thieves, my ‘Comrades,’ were down in the basement—which we researched is where you truly keep the treasury—filling their bags with good ol’ Boskeopoleon tax points. So, you see, there is a’least 1 advantage the ‘99%’ have o’er the ‘1%’: the latter is too short-handed to pay attention to the former.”
Autumn threw her head back & laughed. Lance’s eyes twisted from fury to fright.
“You’re a nutjob, you know that, ri—¡AHH!”
Suddenly, Autumn threw her feet out in a kick @ Lance’s right hand, causing his gun to go flying backward. ’Fore he had a chance to think, she leapt @ him, knocking him to the ground. This time she was the one who pulled her hands round his back & cuffed him.
She sat on his back with her feet pinning his legs down while she unpicked the cuffs still round her ankles.
“Supervillain speeches also have ’nother benefit: they can distract the hero just as much as the villain,” she said.
She clasped his ankles together & then stood & walked back to her rope.
When she reached it she turned back 1 last time. By this time, Lance was already sitting up, turned to Autumn.
“O, & you flatter me by calling me a ‘communist’ or ‘socialist’ or whatever empty curse you throw out. That would be assuming my goal was just helping the poor & weak, which is only an extra benefit.” Her eyes darkened. Her smile soured. “No. I’m ’fraid my true goal is to show you rich cocksuckers how weak you truly are.”
“Just listen to what a whackjob you are,” said Lance, his own eyes darkening.
“I know. Society tries to clean itself o’ us, but its bleach just isn’t strong ’nough,” Autumn said as she began her climb down. “We’re just like cockroaches. You keep stepping on us & we just don’t take the hint.”
Thunder & rain continued to battle outside. Having had his fill o’ it while he waited outside for his inane minions to finally wake up & release him, Lance now sat inside in his comfy mayor’s chair, his back turned to the front door, his face turned to the window protecting him now from the unhappy elements o’ the world.
On an arm o’ his chair, he stroked ’nother gold ingot.
In a deep, hoarse voice, he said, “I’ll get you next time, Hooded Robins. Next time.”
Then he was assaulted by a bout o’ coughing & wheezing. In the midst o’ it, he barely managed to say into his cell, “Agent Purple Mountain’s Majesty: get me the lozenges & orange juice.
Minutes later, Agent Purple Mountain’s Majesty entered with a tray holding a bag & an orange glass & set them on Lance’s desk. Lance popped a cough drop into his mouth, grabbed the glass, & turned back to his window while he heard Agent Purple close the door ’hind him.
“Anyway, as I was saying: I’ll get you next time.”
Then he toasted his orange juice, took it out o’ the toaster oven, & drank ’fore releasing a maniacal laugh.
1 o’ the ferry personnel bringing his stock o’ orange juice had just tumbled o’er the edge into the Fountainhead. He found it immensely amusing.