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It took them three hours to reach New York City, and another hour to reach Manhattan. They hit the morning commute traffic and stalled.
"There's some Ninja clothing for you in back," Garland said, in the midst of a traffic jam.
Freedy looked over the seat and saw a pile of dark clothing. His "Ninja" outfit consisted of black jeans, and dark tennis shoes, and a dark blue t-shirt, topped by a brown coat. There was a small backpack, and Freedy looked inside. Gloves and a small knit cap that turned into a ski mask. Everything a Ninja burglar needed.
"Put on the clothes," Garland said.
"Here?" Freedy asked, looking around at all the cars.
"No one cares, Freedy. They've seen it before."
Freedy struggled into the clothes. They looked casual, something a millionaire might wear on his day off. He felt completely comfortable in them.
Horn's Spire was visible for miles, even among the city canyons, but getting no closer. Garland finally swore up a blue storm and pulled into a parking garage.
"We'll get there quicker by subway," he said.
A half hour later they emerged onto the broad plaza in front of the Spire. The size of the plaza probably impressed Freedy as much as anything -- that with city land being so valuable, the Horn had sequestered a half a city block for his personal glory.
A giant sculpture of a Unicorn dominated the square, and the horn on the Unicorn was curled in just the same number of whirls as the Spire itself, and was iridescent in the morning sun.
The Spire gleamed a shocking white, almost too bright to look at. If Freedy forced himself, he could see the blues and pinks sprinkled through the marble, following the curves of the giant horn.
Freedy understood his gold miner's friends derision of the giant phallic symbol -- what other sane reaction was there to such massive hubris? Freedy right then and there decided to call the Spire -- the Dragon.
As in, he was there to slay it.
"Wouldn't it be better to wait until nightfall?" Freedy asked.
"Horn is a night owl," Garland said. "Or more accurately, he's an all hours of the day and night owl..."
They stopped at the base of the Unicorn and craned their necks upward. "I've been told by reliable sources that Darrell Horn is out of town. As well, he tends to stay away on Tuesdays. So -- no time like the present, right Freedy?" He looked down at Freedy as if suddenly doubting the whole enterprise.
Freedy didn't blame him. He didn't know what had possessed Garland to pick him for this job. He could have had no way of knowing that Freedy was up to it. He especially couldn't have known that Freedy would literally stumble across the one tool that could possibly help him succeed.
No time like the present? Any other time but the present, Freedy wanted to say. He wanted to bolt, run down the steps of the subway entrance and disappear.
But how could he ever show his face in Centerville again? How could he ever face Sheila?
He gulped. "Err...just one thing, Garland. I need to get an iPad, so I can utilize my code-breaking program."
"Easy enough," Garland exclaimed. There was an Apple store just another block away, and soon Freedy was outfitted with a brand new pad.
They were back to the base of the Unicorn statue in no time.
"My sources tell me there is a wall safe in his bedroom. Inside, you should find the deeds to Lorn Mountain. Take nothing else, do you understand?"
Freedy couldn't speak. He kept swallowing nervously. What had ever possessed him to take on such a task? He was totally unsuited for it!
"Well then," Garland suddenly seemed at a loss for words. "I'll just wait for you," he glanced around the square and saw a Starbucks in one corner. "I wait for you over there..."
Freedy turned toward the Spire, feeling a little like a bug beneath a mountain. He couldn't even take it all in.
"Good luck, Freedy!" Garland said heartily. He walked away without looking back.
As soon as Garland was out of sight, Freedy took out the Key and plugged it in.
"Well, well. New York, New York!" the machine cheeriness of Key spoke.
"I'm going to need you to not speak," Freedy said. "Text, from now on."
"If you insist," Key pouted, out loud, and then continued onscreen. "What are we doing here?"
"We are going to break into Darrell Horn's penthouse and steal back the deeds to Lorn Mountain," Freedy typed. "I need you to help me do that."
"What fun!" Key said. "It won't be easy -- you'll have to be physically present to open some of routes. Horn has guards all over the place."
"Can you send them off?"
"That would be suspicious, don't you think? The trick will be to put the guards where you aren't and put you where the guards aren't."
Freedy took a deep breath. Time to slay the dragon -- or get eaten.
He started walking slowly, casually toward the entrance. Then he decided that looked suspicious and started walking more firmly, purposely, like a businessman on a mission.
There were a trio of guards at the front desk; not the slovenly rent-a-cops that most buildings had. No, these guys looked like former Navy Seals or something. They stared at him suspiciously, which made Freedy nervous for a moment. Then he realized they stared at everyone suspiciously.
They checked a computer list of allowed visitors, and Freedy popped up right away. There was even a picture of him in his current clothing. How had Key managed that? Just what couldn't the Key do?
Freedy walked past the guards as if they were beneath him, and sauntered over to the bank of elevators.
"Horn's private elevator is on the far left," Key texted. "If you are found inside that, there is nothing I could do to explain it away. We'll avoid it until the last minute. Take the middle one -- the one labelled "Observation Platform."
Freedy squeezed his way in with a gaggle of squealing teenage girls. 'Why aren't you in school?' he wanted to ask. He was turning into a grumpy old man, he thought. He thought of Sheila at that moment and relaxed. Let the young girls have their fun, he thought.
The minute the thought passed his brain, it was as if the young girls decided he was all right, and they tried to include him in their conversation. Freedy joined in the excitement. 'No,' he'd never been there either. 'Yes,' it was a very cool building.
He decided to use the girls as cover, and to stay near them as long as possible -- as long as it didn't creep them out.
They had to change elevators twice to finally reach the viewing level. The girls let out little screams when they saw the transparent deck, and Freedy almost joined them. He followed their ginger emergence onto the platform.
"Now what?" Freedy asked Key.
"Now you've done all the easy parts..."
"Do you mind not being so chatty?" Freedy typed in. "Now what?"
"Just having fun," Key said. "Sheesh. O.K. Horn's penthouse is just above us, and there are only two entrances. The first is the private elevator, which is observed by several different guards stations. There is no way I can distract them all. The second is a service corridor his servant use to come and go without notice. I have sent all the servants away for the next hour. No one will notice that.
"You need to go back into the inside corridor."
Inside, there were a couple fast food restaurants and souvenir stores. There were two restrooms and in between was a simple, unadorned, discreet door with a very big keypad. Freedy walked over to it.
Freedy started to press the numbers. "3-H-..."
"NO!" Key said. "Lower case H. Try to get it right!'
Suddenly Freedy was unaccountably nervous. He'd been running on autopilot pretty much, just following Key's instructions. The first time he had to do something himself, he was messing it up!
"3-h-7-z..." No, that wasn't right.
"Freedy! This pad will notify the guards if you get it wrong one more time!"
Freedy's hands started sweating.
"Don't be nervous!" Key wrote. "But don't get it wrong!"
Gee, thanks a lot, Freedy thought. That really helps. But his angry response did seem to calm him slightly. He was going to take all the time in the world to do it right this time.
"Hey, what are you doing?" he heard a voice. "Who are you?"
Freedy looked around and saw one of the 'special forces' guards approaching.
Freedy looked down at the pad in a panic. "Survey," Key said.
"Survey," Freedy said out loud. Freedy didn't lift his head from the screen and frowned, as if he was too busy to spend time talking to a guard.
"What kind of survey? No one told me about a survey."
"A tech survey," Freedy read and said aloud. "You can check."
The guard moved off a few feet, keeping his eyes on Freedy, and spoke into a cellphone. Freedy could see him relax.
There was a loud squeal from the teenage girls on the deck that immediately caught the guard's attention. Freedy could see his eyes light up.
"All right," the guard said, walking away toward the girls. "Keep doing whatever it was you were doing..."
Freedy was barely conscious of punching in the keypad numbers and miraculously got them right. The heavy door closed behind him. A series of broad concrete steps went upward. He leaned against the door. His knees nearly gave out on him, and he closed he eyes until he got his breath back. How long hadn't he been breathing? This International Jewel Thief thing really wasn't him, he thought. He was more a small town fellow.
"I thought you were going to keep me where the guards weren't..." he said, aloud.
"Hey," Key answered, also verbally. "I can't help it if humans do weird, unpredictable things!"
Freedy crept up the steps. With a deep breath, he opened the door at the top.
It was dark other side. He felt around blindly on both sides of the door and found a switch. It was the back of a very shiny kitchen. Chrome gleamed off everything, even the counters. It didn't look like it was ever used.
He was in.
Comics coming 6/20/18
4 days ago