by Lynn Mundell
Busy scales the building like a bear, not a cat. She’s known as Nine Lives in the press for her risky heists and signature bowl of milk left behind at each burgled home.
Tonight, an old knee injury is flaring up and the climb is hard.
Busy gets a toehold on a granite gargoyle. Far below, she sees the Prius she bought after three burglaries in Upper Manhattan. The last of these was the only time Busy has been seen. A dowager unexpectedly at home threw a heavy art book at her back.
Busy gets her leads from the boroughs’ newspapers, where the longer the column, the greater the wealth. Her focus is widows — and jewelry.
By now she’s at the 17th floor and is feeling her bum shoulder from a fall in the 60s, when she was just a bored teen looking for kicks. She bungled that first job, a random Long Island mansion, but returned to score cash and an emerald cocktail ring.
It’s 2:30 a.m., the exact time between when night owls are finally asleep and early birds haven’t awoken. When windows are open to cool air. Busy’s profession would almost be easy, if it weren’t for occupational hazards — glasscutter gashes, breaking cables on a dumb waiter, a bad fall over a Roomba.
She’s at the penthouse terrace now. Winded, she flops over the balustrade. The widow and her new thirty-something husband are on a honeymoon cruise, according to the tabloids. Limping from one of her misadventures with the crowbar, Busy tries each locked French door. Craning around a corner, she spots an open window.
It’s just a few yards away, so she won’t use the ropes that always remind her of Jean-Luc. In the 80s, they shared heists and a bed. Then one night Johnny’s first step inside an apartment was followed by barking, shouts, and the rope going limp. It was a fluke that Busy landed on a fire escape and got away. She visited him at the pen for a few years, before he told her to stop. Her broken heart nearly killed her.
Busy inches forward, finally gripping the window frame with gloved hands and resting her Rockports half-inside. But relief turns to shock when she sees there’s someone already there, with her back to Busy. A flashlight on the mantle illuminates an ornate mirror where a woman admires her reflection, sparkling with diamond ropes. Just then, the young, unlined face spots Busy in the mirror and smiles, as though at a dear friend.
Unhurriedly, the girl walks to the window and speaks to Busy through the glass.
“Sorry, old thing. Imitation is the greatest flattery.”
Deftly, she drops the heavy window down on Busy’s feet.
The girl prowls around the apartment, pocketing the necklaces, pouring milk, and then triggering the alarm. Trapped behind the glass like a pet shop animal, Busy can only watch as the thief walks out the door, taking the last bit of luck with her.
published 11 June 2016