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On the other side of the gleaming kitchen was a dark living room, with windows wrapping around three quarters of the slightly rounded interior. Horn owned a view of almost the entire city. Glittering pillers of light and shadow. To Freedy, from a small town in Oregon, it looked like a science fiction vista of a future city.
To the left of the kitchen was a corridor that Freedy assumed led to the bedrooms. Soft carpets and soft lights. To the right was a small office, rarely used by the look of it. He padded through the kitchen and closed the door behind him. He was wearing the black gloves that had been in the bag, and had the knit hat over his head. He didn't know what good the ski mask would do, but he was ready to use it.
The wall safe was in plain view, with an old-fashioned spin dial. Horn hadn't even bothered to cover it with a painting. The office was all wood and metal. No books, no paintings, no human touch at all.
"All right, Key," he typed. "I'm ready for the combination."
"Ah, but I don't have the combination." Key said it like a punchline, like he'd been saving it for the worst possible moment.
"What do you mean you don't have it?" Freedy wrote, with a sinking feeling.
Somehow he'd known. This had all been going way too easily. He waltzed into the lair of a famously paranoid man, and it had seemed almost routine.
"It's a mechanical safe, not digital," Key said, sounding smug even in the writing. "Probably only Darrell Horn knows the combination."
Freedy felt all the excitement drain from him. He'd traveled all the way across the country, faced danger after danger, all for this moment. He'd pretended to be the great Master Thief -- even Sheila seemed to think he had it in him. Everyone was counting on him. He himself been so certain he was going to succeed.
And he was completely stymied. By a simple little thing -- an old-fashioned safe. The kind of safe his Aunt Tessie would probably have found to be a piece of cake.
Freedy was no burglar, no jewel thief, and he certainly wasn't a safe cracker. He was a small town man, with small town ambitions, and the larceny in his heart was limited to stealing a plant from a neighbor's yard. Which he knew the neighbor wouldn't mind him taking. Master Thief-- what a joke!
He flopped into the desk chair and his mind went blank for a few moments. How long he sat there, he wasn't sure, but his subconscious must have been working on the problem, because when he came back to the present he had a very clear thought. Horn was just a man -- a very busy man at that.
What would Freedy do, if he had to memorize a combination he rarely used?
His eyes landed on a small replica of the unicorn statue on the corner of the desk near the safe. He sprang from the chair and turned the unicorn over. There, written in pencil on cheap masking tape, was a series of numbers.
It didn't take him long to open the safe after that. The grooves seemed to be already worn into the machine-work.
There was a pile of papers inside about six inches tall. The deeds to Lorn Mountain were about halfway down. After a few more minutes of searching, he found the deeds to the Centerville mine, and he took those, too.
There was also a small cloth bag. Freedy emptied the contents onto his palm. The precious gems glittered, of all types and sizes and colors -- he didn't know what they all were, but one thing he was sure of -- they were valuable enough to make Aunt Tessie's haul look like, well, a maiden aunt's dowry.
"Take only the deeds," Garland had said.
But here's the thing: Freedy didn't like Mr. Horn. Not at all. Freedy didn't like what Mr. Horn had done to him or to his friends.
He put the bag of gems in his pocket. It wasn't just for him, he told himself. The gold miners were going to need a stake. And beside, didn't Freedy Filkins, international jewel thief, have a reputation to uphold?
There was a ledger in the pile of papers and Freedy opened it out of curiosity. The list of names and payments went on for pages, and when he saw the titles of those being paid, he whistled a low whistle. A few moments later he snapped it shut with satisfaction. This made the whole trip worthwhile, he thought. This was going to resolve everyone's problems. Wait until Garland and the others saw this!
He started out the office. He hadn't gone more than a few steps before a cellphone rang in the dark living room.
Freedy ignored it, except he couldn't help but notice it was the theme song to Darrell Horn's show, "Try Finding A Job After This!" A show he never watched but which was promoted so relentlessly, he couldn't help hear it.
"How did you get this number?" Horn demanded. A giant silhouette arose from the shadowy couch, an outline against the starry lights of the city that was famous. Horn was completely bald, on top an enormous round head. His upper torso was immense, but he had a very narrow waist. Most people assumed that he wore a corset. A million jokes had been made making fun of that silhouette, which seemed to come from a Looney Tunes cartoon.
From what Freedy saw, the narrow waist was natural -- maybe the only natural thing about the tycoon. Unless, that is, that Horn had a habit of sleeping with a corset, for he was fully clothed in a tuxedo.
"Do you know who I am?" Horn was demanding.
Freedy retreated to the office. He hadn't even thought to bring a weapon. It wasn't his style. His mask was going to be really useful right up to the moment when anyone yanked it off his head.
He typed furiously, 'Why didn't you tell me that Horn was here?'
"You didn't ask."
"What part of the 'Spirit of Not Letting Me Get Caught' don't you understand?"
Freedy didn't trust the small letter apology. He realized he just couldn't trust the Key. He'd tried to insulate himself from the trickery.
But now he realized that no amount of words, no specificity could cover every possibility. The Key could always find a loophole, he thought. If the Key wanted him to get caught, he would probably be caught.
"Of course I'm a billionaire!" Horn was shouting from the middle of the living room.
There was a pause, as he listened to someone on the other end of the line.
"Well, even if I'm not a real billionaire," Horn followed a few moments later in a slightly lower tone.
"People think I am and that's what counts..."
Finally, in a completely chastened voice. "Yes, sir. Yes I know you could put me out of business. Forgive me for doubting you... Yes, sir. What? The name of my show is "Try Finding a Job After this! Who me! Yes, I understand, please forgive me..."
Horn was nearly groveling by now. Freedy suddenly realized that there was only one person who could have this effect on the famously bombastic tycoon.
He looked down at his iPad and without another word, turned it off. Let Key stay in its (his) little flashdrive prison. No sense letting Key know that his Dark Master was so near. A simple shout out, "I'm here Master! I'm right here!" and it was all over...
"What!" Horn reclaimed his voice. "Are you sure?"
Freedy stood at the door, trying to make sense of the other side of the conversation.
"That's impossible!" These last words seemed to come from only feet away.
Freedy looked around in a panic. There was a small closet behind him, and he slipped into it just as the door opened.
4 days ago