Old-Fashioned by H. A. Titus [sci-fi]

Imprint - SciFi Imprint Logo 200wOld-Fashioned by H. A. Titus

Ninety percent of people who have an alarm system never activate it, Chase Yolander included. Despite the iridescent security chips visible in the windows, the office door alarm hadn’t been wired into the space yacht’s system.

It was a good bet that the safe wasn’t armed, either. Still, better careful than caught. Penny pulled the door closed behind her and turned to look around the room. Xerc already stood in front of the wall safe, holding a framed Monet.

“Not very clever, hiding it behind a valuable painting.” Penny took the painting from Xerc. The dim overhead lights made the warm, swirled paint colors glow.

“Real?” he asked.

“Very.”

“Don’t suppose we can take it?”

“I can’t exactly slip a Monet into my shapewear.”

Xerc’s green eyes flicked to her, a grin spreading lazily across his face. “A painting-shaped lump would definitely detract from that dress.”

Penny raised an eyebrow, and a smile tugged the corners of her lips. “For shame, Archley. And you call yourself a professional.”

He smirked and turned back to the safe. His black-gloved fingers danced over the surface. “As professional as you are old-fashioned, my dear.”

She stepped closer and examined the shiny box. It was flush with the wall, which was straight since the interior office didn’t have the curve of the ship’s outer walls. The safe looked old, with a spin dial in the middle and gold flourishes framing the edges of the door. A keyhole, scarcely large enough for a pin, sat beneath the dial.

Xerc tapped his lower lip. “There’s no need for a keyhole and a dial. Not to mention the fingerprint scanner.” He nodded to the little pressure pad that sat below the keyhole.

She’d missed that. The pad was nearly the same glossy black as the rest of the safe.

Penny stopped herself from running her fingers through her loose curls. The fewer hair strands and skin cells left for InterPol to find, the better.

Why would someone have three ways to get into a safe? All their intel said Yolander wasn’t that paranoid. Perhaps two of the locks were decoys.

As Xerc continued examining the safe, Penny looked around the office. The Monet had been the only picture in the room. What little wall space wasn’t covered in bookshelves was paneled in dark wood. It was probably even real. She sniffed. The smell of lemons and linseed oil lingered in the room. Definitely real wood polish, at least. It didn’t have the zest of chemicals that usually underlined canned smells.

There was no sign of a projector, which meant Yolander didn’t use a holo-computer in this room. And the books. Yolander had a fortune in hard-backed volumes crammed onto the shelves. Penny stepped up to a shelf, ran a finger along the creased spine of a novel, then eased it from the shelf. Some of the pages looked dog-eared. She smiled. Not just for show then.

The title and author were embossed in gold on the red cover. The Secret Passage by R. C. Morgan.

Xerc began humming to himself. Penny looked at him. He pulled his glass tablet phone from an inner pocket in his tuxedo jacket and tapped a sequence into the home screen, which turned the screen dark. As he held the tablet up to the safe, Penny looked over his shoulder. Tiny green lines appeared on the tablet screen, indicating wiring that connected to the dial, print scanner, and keyhole.

She felt Xerc stiffen, and chills circled Penny’s wrists like invisible handcuffs. She took a deep, steadying breath. Somewhere, their intel had been wrong. Yolander did indeed use alarms.

“Good thing I didn’t try picking the lock,” Xerc muttered, replacing the tablet in his pocket. “Should’ve brought the decoder and not listened to that twit in Exion.”

“Smuggling that bulky beast in would have been more impossible than stealing the Monet,” Penny said.

Xerc shrugged. “See if the books are worth anything.” He moved to the immaculate marble-topped desk. “I don’t want to walk away without something to show for it.”

Penny went back to the shelves and pulled another book free. Another R. C. Morgan, Of Gates and Grottos. Something tweaked at the back of Penny’s mind.

Old-fashioned. Penny pulled another book from the shelves and checked the title page. And another. And a third, all from different parts of the room. All of them were old Gothic novels and pulp adventure stories, stuffed with secret tunnels and hidden passageways and forgotten treasure.

She carried them across the room to where Xerc was rifling through the desk and put them in front of him.

“Valuable?” he asked.

“I don’t know. They’re reprints of old pulp fiction from the early nineteen-hundreds. I doubt they even exist as tab-books. He probably had them specialty printed.” She waved her hand around the room. “Everything in here is designed to look old and classy. Based on the books and the look of the room, I think there’s a way into that safe. We just need to find it without setting off the alarm.”

Xerc raised an eyebrow. “You sure?”

She licked her lips. “Ninety percent.”

“Good enough.” He ran his hands over the carvings on the desk’s sides.

Penny scanned the room. There, in the corner by the door. The chair cushion sagged, and the side table had a few water rings staining the finish, unlike the pristine surface of the other tables in the room.

She slid past the chair. Her eyes caught one title halfway down the right side of the case, a slightly tattered-looking volume titled The Secret Key. She grinned and gave the book a sharp tug. A click sounded, and the safe door swung silently open.

Xerc bounded across to it and reached inside.

“Anything good?” Penny asked as she stepped up to his side.

“Oh yeah.” Xerc removed a necklace. A deep-blue diamond glittered from the middle of the pendant, outclassing the stones that surrounded it. His grin made the corners of his eyes crinkle as he held it up against her neck. “Old-fashioned, indeed.”

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