The Story

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Out of the Gutter by Cattail :

Sara Jay yanked her hand back out of the gutter. It was covered in cold slime with several decaying wet leaves still clinging. 'The story of my life,' she thought bitterly, pocketing the debris and wiping the muck on her pants leg. 'I started out this life in the gutter, dug my way through it, and still come out covered in slime.' The only difference, she supposed, was the quality of the material that would need to be washed. She was wearing a tough nylon shell with many useful pockets over a temperature adjusting body suit. Definitely better than the torn blue jeans overall she used to wear.

Carefully reaching over to another brick, she pulled herself to the right. One arm. One foot. One arm. The other foot. Ever so slowly. Even more quietly. The armed guards patrolling the perimeter didn't need to notice her. 'Just part of the wall,' she told herself, 'I'm just another part of the wall.' Her muscles were aching, but she had a job to do. Three more searches through the cold slime turned up two twigs, one stick, an abandoned bird nest, and her prize - a fingernail size perfectly cut ruby. She didn't even look at it. She merely pocketed it with the dead leaves. Only idiots in movies wasted time playing with loot before they were safe.

'Now, to head back the short way or go back around the long way?' Her muscles were the deciding factor. She wasn't sure she could make it all the way back around the house. She never would have gone the short, more dangerous route in her younger days. Back then, she took no risks. She reached over to the right, moving extra slowly. This way would take her around the front of the building. One arm. One foot. One arm. One...

Her toe, intentionally left bare for this reason, encountered something other than brick. She immediately stopped before putting any pressure on it. Likely a sensor of some sort. She went back, wondering how many sensors she had managed to miss on the way here. Not only would she have to go the long way back, she'd have to be careful to check for pressure triggers.

She retraced her path, stopping for frequent rests. She had a vision of falling backward off the wall and going splat on the pavement just in front of one of the security guards. The guard would goggle at her for a minute wondering what plane she had fallen out of, finally notice the weird temperature netting, and sound the alarm. Like ants swarming out of their hill, the place would be crawling with trigger-happy goons all searching for the rest of the invasion. 'Hah!' she thought, gritting her teeth and reaching for the next brick.

Down. It was time to go down. She watched a patrolman cross underneath her. He even looked up, but didn't see her. Speed became a priority. Quickly, but still searching for pressure triggers, she descended. She found two more sensors, but avoided them. Crouching on the ground she chose her next target, a small section of the yard that was slightly lower than the rest. They probably expected anyone to use one of the bushes or trees. Sara Jay chose places to hide between normal focal points. People's brains tended to fill in the blank spots.

She sprinted and dropped flat, breathing far too heavily. She waited for the next hole in the security patrol and sprinted to the next dent. And the next and the next. Fifteen zigzag hops later, she waited. When she had done her initial surveillance, she had discovered that the gate security guard usually took an unauthorized bathroom break between 9 and 10 pm. She had come in over the security guard shack, paused to add a small vial of a diuretic to the man's coffee, and continued on her way.

She was later returning than she had expected to be and imagined many creative things the goons would do with her if she had missed her exit window. She waited. Crickets chirped. Someone coughed off in the distance. A car entered, headlights briefly passing over her prone form, hidden in plain sight. Her heart beat wildly, but she continued to breath slowly. That was half the trick to hiding, breathing so slowly that the rise and fall of the chest or back was imperceptible.

The shack door opened and the guard hurried off to his tree, just behind a bush, which was on the other side of the driveway, just out of sight of the shack. Sara Jay scrambled to her feet, forcing muscles into action that had gone stiff from lack of movement. Up the side of the shack, quickly resetting the tripwire, and down the front. She sprinted across the road into the shadows of another small dent in the ground. She permitted herself to breathe more heavily for a very short time.

The journey back home was comparatively easy and without incident. She dumped her expensive nylon shell in a pile on the floor, then threw the temperature netting on top of it, and climbed into the shower. She let the hot water and steam soak into her aching body. Eventually the water began to get cold and she turned it off, quickly dried, and fell onto her bed, sleeping blessedly nightmare free. She rarely had a nightmare free sleep.

It was mid-afternoon when Sara Jay finally awoke and began to sort through her gear. The temperature netting was carefully inspected for damage and hung in her closet. The nylon shell pockets were emptied. She removed the silencer from her unused (this trip) mini-assassin's rifle and stashed it, still loaded, in its foam nest. She dumped the gutter debris on an old newspaper and picked through it with one finger until she found the ruby. Even before she washed it, she knew the man hadn't been lying; it was easily worth several million dollars.

After everything was clean and put away, she sat in her rocking chair-recliner by the window. The late afternoon sun sparkled through the gem's facets and made pretty dancing lights across the room. The man had said she'd either be employed and partially paid or dead - dead due to failure or dead due to trying to steal the ruby without subsequently providing her services. Unless she was a coward and had been lying about how good she was at her job and had the sense to confess and decline the opportunity. Well, she wasn't a coward and she suspected she was near the best in her field, such that it was. After all, not everyone could get in and out of a secured environment when the owner expected it and was watching. The added bonus of live rounds and sincere orders to shoot intruders on sight merely raised the adrenaline a bit. Like the old days. She hated the old days.

But employment was employment and she needed the income before Red Al showed up to collect. How had she managed to fall so far in debt so quickly? First thing in the morning, then, she'd go visit her new employer with the proof of her skills...