Synopsis: Cora makes good money for dangerous work. This night, things don’t go to plan.
Submitted for NYC Midnight, Challenge 2, 2020 (Placed first in Group, scored 15 of 15 points)
“I’m with the caterer.” Cora paused the handcart and flashed an id badge to the guard at the service door. She had paid handsomely for the hacked credentials.
The man smiled and scanned her badge with the access wand. The machine blinked green. “No problem, miss.” The man held the door while Cora wheeled in the load of fruit boxes.
Inside, the majestic music of the orchestra floated through the monitors in the hallway. The kitchen was bustling. Cooks and servers moved with organized energy in their quest to satisfy 500 wealthy patrons of the arts who were attending tonight’s fundraising concert. The Benefactor’s Gala and Silent Auction was the social highlight of the season. Music and money. Cora loved them both but more dearly, money.
Cora maneuvered through a busy service area and down a side hall. She had studied the floor plan for the facility and the event setup. She had carefully planned her routes for every step of the way. After she passed an overhead security camera, she lithely stepped up on her boxes and severed its cord. This grand concert hall lacked many modern security upgrades. With the camera disabled, she picked the lock on an out of the way storage room. Cora slipped out of her caterer’s costume and pulled a sparkling evening dress from under a layer of apples. She adjusted an artificial, ‘pregnant belly’, beneath the shimmering cascades of fabric. It only looked the part. Its hollow core wouldn’t stand up to a tactile inspection.
Glancing at her phone, it was nearly time. Cora added a bit more ‘glow’ to her cheeks and practiced a smile. She coiffured the auburn locks of her wig. Cora was well versed in the art of being beautiful. Pregnant was a convenience; a place to stash her gear and then her prize. She grinned as she took a selfie then peeked out of the store room door and timed her exit. She swept down the hallway and out to the grand hall with barely a glance from the busy staff.
She entered the banquet hall and made her way to the tables along the wall. She would smile at someone, lean in, greet a face or two. She mimed compliments to the women, never minding that she knew no one. 15 seconds of distraction was all she needed. From the pocket of her gown she would activate the timer on a small incendiary smoke bomb, let it drop to the floor under her dress, then nudge it under the table with her foot. The music kept any errant noise covered. With the fire-starters in place, she headed toward the auction tables in the foyer.
The silent auction was a dazzling array of opulence. Among them, a single dark bottle lay in a velvet lined box. Her benefactor was paying top dollar for Cora to acquire this burgundy wine. Apparently it was a ‘missing cornerstone of his collection’ and worth a half million dollars on the open market. The fact that the rare wine was in a charity auction spoke to the ridiculously extravagant ecosphere that surrounded the music world. Cora smiled at the burly guards as she added a bid to the ipad on the table at the foot of the box. Cora continued to browse the collection, texting and occasionally glancing up at the performers on the stage. Cora’s phone buzzed and she strolled back toward her target. She paused and nonchalantly rubbed her baby belly while admiring the bottle.
The acrid smell of smoke made her smile. Shouts of ‘fire’ echoed up, the music stalled. Smoke billowed from beneath three tables. As soon as the guards glanced at the commotion, Cora nabbed the wine and darted toward her escape route. As she turned the corner she heard the bellow of a guard. It was partially drowned out in the sudden wailing of the fire alarms. Strobe lights began flashing. Dropping a long string of M80 firecrackers behind a large potted plant, Cora took a moment to secure the bottle under her dress. A woman screamed with the first sharp rapport. The crowd panicked at the sound of what they presumed was gun fire. People stampeded for the exits. Cora dashed back through the hazy smoke to the service door. She seized a tall waiter by the arm and gestured at her protruding stomach. “Please, help me!” He nodded. She clung to his arm as he muscled them out the doors into the alley. In the throng, Cora allowed herself to get separated from the man. Sirens wailed. The door guard, who initially let her in, was directing people toward the main street. He caught Cora’s eye for a split second. Recognition flashed in his look.
“Hey, you! Wait!”
Cora bolted down the alley. The guard hesitated, glanced at the throng of people escaping the building, then pursued the thief, yelling into his radio. Cora kicked off her high heeled shoes and sprinted for the street. Suddenly, a police car turned down the alley, followed by a fire engine. Glancing at her pursuer, Cora made a hard right then vaulted over the low wall of the parking garage. Dodging a van that was coming down the ramp, she sprinted between cars and headed for the stairs.
The guard lagged behind. “Stop, thief!”
She barely heard him over the multiplying sirens. Her lungs burned. She spun through an upper floor door colliding with an older couple, bowling them over. Cora hit the rough concrete, arms and legs akimbo. She rolled over and felt liquid seeping around her. She sprang to her feet and looked down at her ruined pay day.
Cora scrambled from the grasp of the protesting couple. Her night ruined, she dejectedly jogged for the far stairwell, dripping a trail of the lost burgundy wine.
Looking at the spreading red stain, the dazed woman screamed after her, “what about your baby?”