Dylan stood beside an oak tree, watching the house. He shifted his weight from one foot to the other, trying to keep warm, and dug his hands into the pockets of his jacket. He didn’t want to stay out here much longer, but he had to be sure there was nobody at home. He’d been coming out here for the past few days, trying to get a sense of when people were there and when they weren’t. Today, the house was dark and there were no cars in the driveway. It’d be a good day to do the job.
After a few glances around, Dylan was satisfied that nobody was watching him. The shades in the house next door and the one across the street were drawn, and no-one was outdoors. Perfect. He made his way around to the back of the house and stopped again. Still no lights on. Good. Dylan had his own code. He might be a thief, but he had no taste for hurting or killing people. He always made sure nobody was around when he paid a visit.
Now, Dylan made his way to the kitchen door at the back of the house. It was locked, but it wasn’t a complicated lock; he had it open in less than a minute. He eased into the kitchen and stopped, listening for any noise. Everything was quiet, so he slowly moved towards the living room. People sometimes had valuable things like antiques in living rooms. He spent a few minutes there, picking up a few things he found. There wasn’t much that was valuable – just a game console and a watch that somebody had left on a side table. This wasn’t going to be worth it unless he found some good things somewhere else in the house.
Toby yawned hard behind his hand. The meeting had been going on for an hour, and nothing had been accomplished. The whole work-at-home thing hadn’t been a problem for him. In fact, he and his team had completed several major projects. The problem was the endless round of Zoom meetings. There was always something to discuss, and since everyone was at home anyway, nobody seemed to see it as an inconvenience. And very few of those meetings were really necessary. Still, the company bigshots wanted Zoom meetings, so that’s what they got. ‘Collaboration,’ they called it. He could tell them where to put their collaboration.
‘What do you think, Toby?’ Josie’s question brought Toby back to the meeting. He made some sort of noncommittal response, which seemed to make Josie happy. That was fine with him; he actually liked Josie. She was a good boss. He really ought to be more careful to at least pretend to pay attention. Wait – were those footsteps? He shook his head a bit. Must be coming through someone’s microphone. No, it wasn’t someone else’s microphone. Those were real feet.
Dylan stopped on the stairs. He would have sworn he heard someone’s voice, but it could have been his imagination. He waited almost a full minute, but he didn’t see anyone. He slowly crept up the rest of the stairs until he got to the second floor. He was halfway down the hall when he heard the voice again. Maybe someone had left a radio on or something. Whatever it was, Dylan hadn’t seen anyone, so he felt safe enough. And he could always turn and run if he did see someone.
The meeting was finally coming to an end. Everyone said ‘goodbye,’ and ‘thanks.’ Toby didn’t even bother to do that. The technology could wait. He had to find out what that noise was. He pushed his chair back and quietly went to the door of his home office. There were no noises now. What an idiot he’d been! Of course there was nothing there. Michelle had gone grocery shopping and wouldn’t be back for a while. And she wouldn’t have come in without saying anything to him or at least coming to the office door and waving.
Annoyed with himself, Toby started to go back to his desk. There it was – that same noise again. He turned back towards the door and saw a man standing there. “What the hell! Who are you?” he demanded. The other man said nothing. He hesitated just long enough for Toby to grab his arm.
Dylan tried to shake free, but the other guy wouldn’t let go. He dropped the things he’d taken and fought back. He got in a few punches as the two scuffled, but the other guy was stronger than he looked. Dylan glanced around to see if there was anything that he could use to break free. Then he saw the desk lamp. He grabbed it and hit the guy’s head with it, dropping the lamp as the guy fell.
Drawing a few ragged breaths, Dylan thought for a minute. It was hard to tell if the guy was still alive, but he couldn’t afford to stick around and find out. He’d have to get out of here fast. He used a corner of his shirt to wipe the lamp where he’d touched it. Then he turned and grabbed the things he’d dropped on the floor. This had all gone to hell, but maybe there was still time to get out of here before anyone found out. Dylan looked around the room one more time to be sure he hadn’t forgotten anything. He glanced over at the laptop that was on the desk. Shit! The camera light was on!
Josie stared in horror at her computer screen. She’d been waiting for everyone to leave the meeting, so she could close the Zoom program, but Toby was still there. Now she saw why. Toby was fighting with what looked like a burglar. The other guy grabbed Toby’s desk lamp and a second later, Toby was on the floor, with blood slowly seeping out onto the area rug. She gulped hard a few times and picked up her telephone.