[The goal of this exercise, created by Mark Paxson, was to write a story using a different word, selected randomly by him, each day for seven days. The full list of words is here. I’d already had an idea for a story I’d been kicking around, and found it worked well for this exercise. In each section, I’ve put the word of the day in bold.]
Zelda Hood thought this was about as close to perfect as life could get. She was stretched out on a brand-new beach towel, listening to the waves lapping against the shore some yards away. The sounds of beachgoers in the public section were audible, but she was on her own private reserve, and had no need to worry that crowds would interfere with her view of the ocean. In one hand she had a thriller and in the other an iced coffee. The sun was warm, but not too warm, and the cool ocean breeze saw to the elimination of any excess heat. Truly, this was the life.
But then a shadow, literal and metaphorical, fell across her. She set aside her book and turned to face the source of the shadow.
“Go away, Morant.” She said immediately upon seeing the skinny man clad incongruously in dress pants and shirt, standing over her.
“Well, hello to you too, Zelda, “ he said cheerfully, taking a seat in the sand beside her.
“Whatever it is, I don’t care,” she said, and pointedly picked up the book again.
“Now, is that any way to treat an old friend?”
“We’re not friends. Please go directly to hell; do not pass go. Do not collect $200.”
“You know, you look great in that bikini.”
“Flattery will get you nowhere.”
“You know what else you look great in? Your black catsuit. You know the one?”
Zelda sighed and put the book down again. She peered over her sunglasses at Morant, who was smiling idiotically at her.
“This is private property, Morant. You have one minute to get your ass out of here before I call the police and tell them you’re trespassing.”
“Zelda, this is so unlike you! Where’s the old Zelda?” He said in a tone of mock-hurt.
“The old Zelda would shoot you in the head and throw your body in the sea. I’ve mellowed with age. Be grateful.”
“Why do you assume I’ve come to make trouble? Maybe I’m just here as a friend, dropping by to say hello.”
“I’ve already addressed this ‘friend’ issue.”
“Zelda,” he said somberly, or as close to somberly as his impish nature could manage, “I’ve got a job that you won’t want to pass up.”
“Wrong again, boyo.”
“You know Johnson Veldminster?”
“Sure, he’s an eccentric rich dude. Everyone knows that. Got anything else obvious to ask?”
“He’s acquired one of the most famous paintings in the occult world, The Sabbath of The Great Under-Dwellers. The original, by Nightingale himself.”
“Well, you know; I think Veldminster really shouldn’t have something like that. I mean to say, that man got rich off the backs of the working poor. Seems to me letting him have a treasure like that is just, oh, what is it they say? Coals to Newcastle?”
Zelda had resumed reading, despite knowing this would not dissuade Morant.
“Anyway, there are certain clients on the market who would be willing to pay a great deal for the… recovery of this painting. And they put out some feelers, and called a guy, who called a guy, who called me, and asked if I knew anyone who was capable of breaking into the Veldminster estate.”
“And you told them, ‘not any more, she’s retired.’”
“I told them that the greatest thief in history would never turn down this opportunity.’
“Well, sounds like you need to learn a lesson about making promises you can’t keep.”
“Zelda, are you telling me there’s no chance you’ll do this?”
“Are you sure you couldn’t be persuaded to reconsider?”
He blew out a long sigh and looked dispiritedly at the beach. “Well, then I guess I better get going.”
He stood up, brushed the sand from his pants, and walked dejectedly away. Zelda exhaled and went back to her book.
She lay there for hours, soaking up the sunlight and sipping her coffee, once or twice drifting off. Finally, late in the day, as the first signs of a storm began to gather, she packed her book away, wrapped herself in her towel, and trotted back to her beach house. There she made herself a BLT and a Jello parfait for dessert. She was about to take the trash out when something caught her eye.
In her driveway, where her silver Lamborghini was normally parked there was… nothing. Her prized vehicle had vanished. She opened the door and rushed out on to the concrete. She hadn’t even bothered to put shoes on, and the hot slab hurt her feet, but she had no time to notice. The car was nowhere to be seen. In its place, taped to the concrete, was a laminated note which read:
I’m really sorry to do this, but you left me no choice. If you want to see your car again, you know where to call me.
“I should have killed him when I had the chance.” Zelda muttered.
“Zelda, hello! It was great seeing you today.”
“Shut up, you arrogant piece of trash. I see you’ve already disabled the GPS on my vehicle.”
“Well, yes; couldn’t have you looking it up, now could I? Don’t worry; it’s nothing irrepairable. I’ll take excellent care of your vehicle while it’s in my charge. I just need you to do one teensy-tiny little favor for me.”
“Morant, you no-good, lying, cheating, dirty, rat-filching, son of a–”
“Really, Zelda; it hurts me to hear you say that.”
“All right. So you want me to steal back this stupid painting, do you?”
“Why, yes; now that you mention it, that’s a capital idea!”
Zelda swore at him. Already, she was formulating a plan to settle accounts with him, but that would have to wait.
“Fine, fine; give me the lowdown on this thing.” she said at last.
“That’s the spirit!” said Morant cheerfully. “I’ll send you the complete file lickety-split. You can go over it and let me know if you have questions. But you’re the best, so I doubt you will. Cheerio!”
Zelda cursed him, but he had already hung up. She went to the secure comm. station in her study, where there was already a red light flashing to indicate a message was waiting.
She opened the electronic file and studied it. True to his word, for once, Morant had composed a complete plan of operations just like they’d used in the old days. It had a complete map of the Veldminster estate, complete with detailed schematics of the security systems, patrol routes of the guards, aerial photographs of the grounds, and a map of the surrounding area and possible escape routes.
Zelda’s cat burglar instincts got the better of her, overwhelming her hatred for Morant, and she began to see clearly in her mind’s eye how it would work. The obvious point of entry was through the old cemetery at the rear of the estate. Come in at night; wait for the guard change at 22:00, then slip up the trellis to the 2nd floor balcony. From there, ascend to the roof. Wait until midnight, then take a pane out of the skylight, descend into the house. Patrols in the exterior corridors circle everything in five minutes, but there would be a gap on the southeast door every three, and she could take that to the servants’ corridor, take that to the kitchen, and from there the lift to the basement. That’s where the vault was, as long as she could get past the laser trip beams. Shouldn’t be an issue. More complex was the alarm on the vault itself, but fortunately, Zelda happened to be the inventor of a nifty little gadget that could interface with any known security system. After that, it would be a simple matter to retrace her steps and escape right out the front door during the 04:00 shift change.
She could see it all so clearly, and so it hardly surprised her when she reached the last page of the document to see that Morant had left a note saying he had a flight reserved for the following Wednesday to take her to a place near Veldminster’s South American estate and he was sure she’d have all the details worked out from there like the good old sport she was and the heist would go off that Friday.
Zelda closed the file and walked down to her basement. It had its own security system, one custom built to be impervious to her own hacking devices. Now, if only there’d been a way to install it on her car, she grumbled. The basement was where she kept all the equipment from her former trade. Truth be told, a professional thief never completely retires, though she’d be damned if she’d admit that to Morant.
She did a quick inventory to make sure she had all the she needed. The great things for a thief were stealth and speed, and so she would travel light. A rappelling cord, a hacking unit, and a slim 9MM to be used in the event of a real emergency were all she’d need. And of course, her standard stealthsuit and utility belt.
She had everything she needed. Her time would be best spent mentally rehearsing her steps for the event. Practice, practice, practice, until you’ve got it perfectly.
She didn’t even care that Morant’s plan called for her to carry out the heist on October 31st.
It was a dark and stormy Halloween night. A humid day brought on a strong storm, but Zelda’s ghillie suit kept her dry as she crept through the jungle. She wore the light camouflage over her stealth suit, planning to abandon it once she reached the forest’s edge.
Some people might have found the past 36 hours exhausting, but for Zelda, it had been more or less business as usual. A nine hour flight, followed by a virtual meeting with Morant at a dingy hotel to discuss final arrangements and then a helicopter drop into a jungle clearing were nothing new to her. “After all,” as Morant constantly exhorted. “You’re the best in the biz.”
Morant. She sneered inwardly at the thought of him. She still did not have a firm plan for getting even with him, though it was beginning to take shape in her mind, if only vaguely.
“You’re close to the edge of the woods now,” Morant’s voice buzzed in her ear. Having him on the comm. didn’t help either, but she had no time to snap back at him. She would be polite, she resolved… until she wasn’t.
Soon enough, she could make out a distant light through the rain and fog, and soon she came to a clearing. Here she paused, and removed the ghillie suit. It was a shame to leave it behind, but she had little choice. The stealthsuit was needed for this operation.
“Are you taking off the ghillie suit?” asked Morant. “You know, you look great in that catsuit.”
“Shut up,” she snapped, forgetting her earlier resolution.
Zelda crouch-walked into the old cemetery. Their intelligence suggested that Veldminster’s patrols did not routinely go out this far, but it didn’t hurt to be careful. Fortunately, this cemetery contained many large and elaborate crypts well-suited to providing cover and concealment. A superstitious person might have been unnerved at seeing a huge stone skull looming up at them out of the fog, but Zelda merely saw it as a useful way to stealthily advance towards her target.
Soon, however, it became obvious to her that something odd was happening at the huge house, which was lit up far more than she had expected, and as she crept closer, peering surreptitiously over grave stones, it was clear there were many more cars there than the usual few patrol jeeps their surveillance had learned about.
“What the hell am I looking at?” she hissed to Morant. “It’s lit up like a Christmas tree out there.”
“I, uh, don’t know.” he said. “Maybe they just are doing extra patrols. It never hurts to have redundant security.”
“Extra patrols??? Those aren’t jeeps I’m looking at.”
“Hang tight, I’ll see what I can find out.” Morant hammered away at a keyboard. Zelda tuned out the noise and continued creeping closer to the house, darting in and out among the tombs. Gradually, a cacophony of distant voices rose up across the sprawling lawn that separated the Veldminster manse from the old boneyard. By now, Zelda was close enough that she could see figures moving about, most of them coming from the increasing number of cars pulling up to the house. It seemed that there was a fairly regular procedure–a fancy car would drive up, the occupants would disembark, then a valet would enter the car and drive it to a parking area.
The French doors at the rear of the multi-story Gothic home were open, throwing more light from within the house on to the lawn, and figures from within mingled on the rear balcony, the crowd spilling over into the covered patio. An eerie, fast-paced music pulsed from an unseen source; the unsettling growl of an accordion punctuated by the occasional tolling of a bell.
Zelda took in the whole, uncanny scene, almost as if in a trance, until Morant’s voice broke in, sounding hesitant, even apologetic:
“Uh, Zelda? I just heard from one of my sources in the area. I guess Veldminster’s holding a grand Halloween gala costume ball at his home tonight.”
There was a long silence. Morant was very obviously aware of the magnitude of this failure. Zelda knew she couldn’t yell at him, dearly as she would have loved to, without giving her position away.
A lesser thief than Zelda Hood might have given up at this point. After all, since all the plans were now shown to be completely useless by this unexpected circumstance, it would have been entirely rational to simply call off the whole adventure.
But that simply wasn’t how she was built.
Morant began submitting suggestions to her: “Well… you could wait for them to disperse, I guess. Or maybe look to see if there is an opening at the back you can exploit…”
While he rattled off various plans, Zelda stood up, brushed some leaves off her shoulder, and strode confidently across the lawn, towards the open French Doors. She caught the eye of a butler, and called out, “Which way to the drinks, my good fellow?”
“If madam would please step this way,” he said, showing her into an adjoining room, which was mobbed with a great crowd of vampires, werewolves, 19th-century brigands, 17th-century soldiers, witches, aliens, Napoleon Bonaparte, Sherlock Holmes, Julius Caesar and Queen Elizabeth. There were devils and ghosts, ancient gods and goddesses, pirates and cowboys, space marines and elvish longbowmen.
Zelda mingled with at least a third of this odd crew, engaging them in conversation through flattery and, correctly guessing that they would all be much more interested in talking about themselves than her, managed to never be required to introduce herself.
Eventually, she made her way into the Grand Ballroom, a massive, high-ceilinged chamber, ornamented at the corners by gargoyles on Ionic columns. This room, too, was filled with costumed people, dancing and reveling to the peculiar music.
But what mainly attracted her eye was a large white sheet draped over the mantel. It was clearly concealing a painting, and Zelda had a strong suspicion she knew what painting it was. If her guess was accurate, how would she go about removing it?
She was jarred out of her thoughts by a voice beside her. “What ho there, miss. My, but you look great in that catsuit!”
She turned, and saw a skinny, boyish-faced man dressed as a Pierrot. He was holding a glass of brandy and rather openly gawping at her.
“Thank you,” she said smoothly. “Do you know what’s under the sheet?” She asked, with a nod towards the huge white covering.
“Oh, a showpiece of our host’s, I guess,” he said indifferently. “Some really boffo occult scene or something that old J.V. means to unveil in due course. Always was a bit of a ham, that one.”
He turned and sauntered off in another direction. Zelda started scanning the crowd for Johnson Veldminster, though she eared she would not recognize him if he were in costume.
She needn’t have worried however. Veldminster was not the sort of man to disguise his features. After all, he reasoned, it would be a crime to rob the world of the sight of his majestic visage. He was a criminal, of course, but even he had his limits.
He wore a black tuxedo with a red tie, and a silk black top hat. No doubt he was supposed to be dressed as something, but there could be no doubt it was him; the notorious art dealer. He thought he cut a fine figure, though in truth he was rather portly, not that anyone would ever tell him that. He slithered through the crowd, shaking hands and kissing rings. Zelda made herself scarce as he came near her; it seemed quite possible he alone would realize she was not invited.
She slipped out of the room and into an adjoining hallway. Recalling the layout, she knew she must be close to the visitors’ washroom and followed the hall past more gargoyle-adorned arches until she reached it.
She entered and locked the door behind her.
“Okay, Morant;” she hissed. “Looks like the painting is not in the vault after all. It’s in Veldminster’s Grand Ballroom.”
“So much the better! No lock to crack.”
“There’s about a million people in there, too.”
“Yeah, ‘oh ah’. I swear, Morant–”
“Oh, come now; you’ve been in worse. I have total confidence in you.”
“So do I. It’s you I have no confidence in.”
But even as she spoke, Zelda was beginning to formulate a plan. Admittedly, a risky plan, but there would be no other way…
Her original plan had involved breaking into the vault without triggering an alarm. Now, of course, there was no need to break in. But maybe there was a reason to trigger the alarm…
Zelda made her way to the kitchen. The halls were deserted, as apparently everyone had congregated in the grand ballroom. She knew anyone who did find her would consider her suspicious, but she also realized the servant’s elevator was the only means of accessing the vault. But would she be able to make it back up and out of sight before Veldminster and co. responded to the alarm? She was just mentally reviewing the plans in her head when the sound of jostling silverware caught her attention and she whirled around.
Attempting, too late, to duck behind the counter, was a girl wearing a modest dress and servant’s cap. She could have been at most 14 or 15 years old, and seemed to be trying to conceal her fear as Zelda strode toward her.
“You’re not supposed to be here.” the girl hissed. “What are you doing here?”
“I took a wrong turn, young lady, that’s all.” said Zelda coolly.
“I don’t believe you!” she answered. “You were sneaking.”
Zelda pondered her options. If the girl really intended to raise an alarm, she should have done so already. Why give Zelda the chance to silence her?
“Calm down. I was just looking around. This is a very nice kitchen, miss…?”
“Victoria,” the girl said at last. “My name’s Victoria. I’m the scullery maid.”
“What’s a scullery maid?”
“Beats me. It’s just what they call me… anyway, I still think you’re up to something.”
“What could I be up to?”
“I dunno… maybe you’re planning to rob Mr. Veldminster.”
“You can’t really think I’m a robber,” Zelda said, as sweetly as she could. “Otherwise you’d have run for help.”
“Oh, you don’t get it,” said Victoria. “I hope you’re a robber. I want you to rob that evil old man blind.”
For once, Zelda was caught off guard. “You… what?”
“I hate him! He kidnapped me and made me work here. All so my parents would give him that stupid painting!”
Zelda crouched close beside the girl. She could see now that her eyes were red from crying. Gently, she patted her shoulder.
“You mean… ‘The Sabbath of The Great Under-Dwellers.’ That painting?”
“Yes, that thing.”
“But.. he has it now. Shouldn’t he have given you back?”
“He’s a kidnapper and a blackmailer!” Victoria spat. “Why would he keep his word?”
Zelda saw the sense of this.
“Listen, you’re right. I am a thief, and I’m here to steal that painting.”
The girl grinned. “I knew it!”
“I was just planning to create a diversion by triggering the alarm on Veldminster’s vault. I figure that will cause a panic and in the confusion, they’ll clear the Ballroom and I can steal it. I was just trying to figure out how to get from the vault back here in time.”
Victoria’s eyes were alight. “But now, you’ve got me on your side,” she said happily. “I’ll trigger the alarm, and you can steal the painting.”
Zelda shook her head. “Brilliant in theory,” she said slowly. “But, if I steal the painting, won’t Veldminster think your parents did it, and take it out on you?”
Victoria shook her head. “I’ll just act like I’m hanging around the kitchen, minding my own business. Then, when the panic starts, I’ll run out of here. It’s the chance I’ve been waiting for for months.”
“There are security cameras on the vault. They’ll see you.”
“Not if you flip that circuit breaker over there,” said Victoria, gesturing to a metal box on the wall.
Zelda almost laughed. “Okay, kid. You’ve convinced me. I’ll go back to the ballroom. You give like a ten minute head start, trip the alarm and then get the hell out of here.”
“It’s a deal!” said Victoria.
Zelda turned to leave, but then turned back to the young girl, who was now approaching the elevator.
“By the way,” she asked. “How did you know I was a thief?”
“Oh, you just look so great in that catsuit,” Victoria replied nonchalantly.
Back in the ballroom, the revelry continued, although upon her return Zelda noted the white sheet was still over the painting. The mingling had turned frantic, and more than one guest seemed to be on the verge of toppling over. Zelda worked her way towards the center of the room.
Just then, the eerie music ceased, and all at once a hush fell, and from somewhere Veldminster reappeared, making his way to a makeshift stage that had been placed at the front of the room, just beneath the painting.
“Friends, fellow occultists, decadents, rivals, and other associates etc. etc. etc.” he began in a booming voice. “It has been my great pleasure to welcome you to my home tonight. I trust you are all enjoying the fare this lovely Hallow’s E’en.”
He paused to take in the cheers and applause. “And tonight, it is my very special privilege to display to you the original painting by Nightingale himself; the controversial shocker of all normal sensibilities, the—“
Just then, there was a blaring siren, red emergency lights bathed the room, and Veldminster stopped mid-sentence. Zelda was close enough that she could watch his expression morph from confusion to understanding to anger. She could practically see him thinking “The vault!”
“Ladies and gentlemen,” he said hastily. “I must attend to something. Please wait.”
He swept off the makeshift speaker’s platform, joining a servant and two armed guards at the door to the ballroom, and rushing out together. Zelda hoped Victoria had made it out in time.
Murmurs began to start in the crowd, as people hissed to one another over the blaring alarm. Zelda was disappointed that the room had not been cleared. “Well, if you want something done right…” she thought.
“What’s going on?” someone asked.
“I heard there’s a bomb,” Zelda hissed, throwing her voice, so the confused mob would be unable to tell who said it. As she’d hoped, this sent a new wave of panicked murmurs through the crowd. Zelda quickly elbowed her way past confused partygoers and climbed atop the speaker’s stage.
“All right everyone,” she said in a piercing, but controlled, authoritative voice. “Please clear the ballroom. For security reasons, we ask that everyone please exit the ballroom immediately.”
One of Zelda’s earliest lessons was that, when panicked or confused, most people will generally listen to anyone who appears to be in command, whether they actually are or not. Accordingly, most of the guests began to file out of the doors at either end, as Zelda calmly repeated the command again and again, just as if it were official.
At last, when the room had cleared, she turned her attention to huge object behind her. Tearing off the white covering, she gazed upon Nightingale’s original of “The Sabbath of The Great Under-Dwellers.” She had of course seen photographs of it in Morant’s file, but seeing it in person still made her wrinkle her nose at the appalling scene. “Hideous,” she thought. Still, she was an art thief, not an art critic, and her problem now was how to detach the painting from the wall. Fortunately, it was only held in place by brackets, not yet bolted in, and with the help of her utility knife, she pried it loose. The next step was to fasten it to a sling over her shoulder, so she could easily carry it. She would simply do the reverse of her original plan: instead of entering through the skylight, she would exit out of it. She readied her rappelling cable and threw it over of one of the many leering gargoyles adorning the wall.
She was just about to begin her ascent when a voice behind her spoke, “Hold it right there, missy, or this one buys it.”
It was Veldminster. He was holding a squirming Victoria at gunpoint. “I caught her trying to escape,” he said coldly. “When I realized she’d taken nothing, I understood it must have been a diversion. And so, my instincts were right again. I must say,” he said, his grip on Victoria tightening. “It’s a shame that a lady like you has turned to a life of thievery. After all, you–”
“I know, I know,” grumbled Zelda. “I look great in this catsuit.”
Veldminster seemed momentarily surprised, but quickly regained his focus: “Now give me back my painting or else.” He pressed the gun against Victoria’s head.
Zelda looked at him coldly, then briefly to Victoria, then to the painting. She had gone through all this to steal the painting, and why? For her car. It was the only way to get it back. She’d never get to Morant if she couldn’t lure him to her with the painting as bait. But, really, what choice did she have?
“All right, Veldminster,” she said slowly. “Let her go, and I’ll put it back.”
Neither one moved for a few moments, unsure how to facilitate the transaction.
“Hand me the painting,” said Veldminster.
“Nuh uh uh,” said Zelda. “Girl first, then painting.”
“If I let her go, I don’t have any leverage!”
“And if I hand you the painting… ditto.”
“I could just shoot you both!” he snapped.
“And let your precious painting fall to the floor?” asked Zelda, holding it aloft to emphasize its precariousness.
Veldminster realized the accuracy of her statement and began to slowly edge closer, keeping his weapon on Victoria, who struggled against him in vain. He was slowly but surely closing the gap between them. Zelda stood completely still, keeping her eyes locked with his. Gradually, she lowered the painting toward him, ever so gently.
As he came close, he almost involuntarily reached out towards the painting, momentarily moving the gun aside and giving Victoria enough room to maneuver. In that instant, she elbowed him in the groin with all her strength, sending him to his knees.
“RUN!” Zelda yelled, and Victoria did not need to be told twice. Zelda brought the painting down hard on Veldminster’s head, the canvas shattering atop his balding dome. Next she aimed a kick directly at his nose and connected with a crack, sending him collapsing to the floor. She took off for the nearest door, out of which Victoria had escaped.
A throng of befuddled guests still stood outside, and Zelda shoved her way furiosuly past the confused and drunken crowd. She heard Veldminster’s guards behind her yelling, but stayed focus on finding the openings in the crowd that allowed her to glide through while others stumbled about.
Finally, she burst through the crowded entrance hall and out onto the front lawn. There she saw Victoria, who seemed to be waiting for her.
“This way,” the girl cried, gesturing towards the nearby parking area.
The two of them raced across the grass and into a fleet of cars. Zelda looked around for one that seemed the best bet. She could hotwire a car, of course, but the trick was getting inside.
Hardly had this thought occurred to her than she saw a yellow convertible a few rows over. She grabbed Victoria’s wrist and pulled her towards it, leaping over the hoods of other vehicles to get there.
Standing beside the car looking dazedly around was the young man dressed as Pierrot. He saw them approaching and waved cheerfully.
“I say, good show, what?” he called out.
“Yeah, sure,” said Zelda as she ran up beside him. “Hey, you seem a little drunk. It’s not safe for you to drive.”
“Oh, I dunno. I’ve-*hic*-driven a lot more blotto than I am right now, I’ll have you know.”
“Still, better safe than sorry.” said Zelda, almost tenderly. “Let me take the wheel, old chap.”
“Huh, well; you know best, eh?” he said amiably, handing her the keys and collapsing into the passenger’s seat. Victoria leapt into the backseat, and with a roar of the engine, the three were off. Zelda floored the gas pedal and the car hurtled onto the gravel road leading away from the estate, the screams and desperate gunfire from Veldminster’s guards receding gradually into the distance.
Finally, as they drove on in silence, the voice of Morant crackled in Zelda’s ear again.
“Zelda? My god, what happened back there?”
“Nothing I couldn’t handle. I making my getaway now.”
“Excellent. Boy, Zelda, for a second there; I was worried,” said Morant with an audible sigh of relief. “The guys I promised this painting to are tough SOBs… I mean, if something happened to the painting; why, they’d break my thumbs, cut off my ears, tar and feather me and ride me outta town on a rail… I’d have been in a world of hurt, let me tell you. A world of hurt.”
There was a long, long silence, and Zelda was glad that Morant couldn’t see the goofy smile spreading over her face. Finally, she spoke:
“You can go ahead and keep the car.”
Zelda sat on the beach, lazily reading a newspaper. Headline: “VELDMINSTER SCANDAL: ECCENTRIC ZILLIONAIRE IN CUSTODY”. She chuckled at the picture of the tycoon being led away in handcuffs. What she particularly relished was his broken nose. The story began: “A sordid saga that began with an incredible story from a British aristocrat found sleeping in his car near a South American airport culminated in the arrest of one the region’s most prominent…”
“Your drink, ma’am,” interrupted Victoria, who handed Zelda a glass of hard lemonade.
“Thanks,” Zelda chuckled as the girl took a seat beside her, sipping a drink of her own lemonade–non-alcoholic, as Zelda insisted it had to be.
“My parents called; they should be here in a few minutes.” said Victoria. “Can I come back and visit, though?”
“Anytime,” said Zelda cheerfully. “Good help is so hard to find these days.”
They both chuckled, and then looked out silently at the placid ocean.
“You know, my parents asked if there was anything they could do… any way to pay you…”
Zelda waved a dismissive hand. “No, no. Remember, I was retiring from the heist scene anyway. Thanks to you, I got one helluva swan song. I don’t need anything else.”
“Well, thank you.”
The pair sat lazily for a while longer, taking in the scene, until the silence was broken by the sound of a car in the driveway.
“That’ll be my parents,” said Victoria.
The two hopped up and raced to the front of the house, Victoria bounding ahead of Zelda. She squealed with a delight on seeing them, and rushed to embrace both mother and father in a family hug. When their screaming and tears of joy subsided a little, she turned back to indicate Zelda.
“And this is the lady who saved me,” she said. “Ms. Zelda.”
“How can we ever thank you?” Victoria’s mother gasped, walking towards her with an expression of near-reverential awe.
Zelda nodded and smiled, but never took her eyes off the silver Lamborghini the couple had just arrived in.