Printed from https://www.writing.com/main/view_item/item_id/2296193-Heist---1-The-Key
Rated: 13+ · Novella · Thriller/Suspense · #2296193
A boy discovers a treasure trove of ill-gotten gains left to him by his grandfather.
It was the spring of '95 when my father cleaned out our savings and disappeared, not that there was that much in the account to begin with. Mama got a second job to try to make ends meet, but it still looked like we might lose our house.
I dropped out of school at the age of fourteen and went to work in chicken houses where they paid me cash under the table. It was against the law to drop out of school at that age, but no one cared. It was also against the law for a fourteen-year-old to work sixty hours a week, but no one cared about that either. We made our house payments and that's all that mattered.

In the summer of '96 when I was fifteen Grandpa died in prison and mama had to cover the funeral costs. Seems like we just couldn't catch a break.

Very few people attended Grandpa's funeral, however a lady I'd never seen before tugged on my arm while Mama and Grandma were up at his casket. She handed me a small piece of paper and whispered for me not to show anyone. She was gone by the time Mama and Grandma returned to their seats.

I discretely glanced at the note and saw my name written in cursive. Nolan Kirby. It was folded and stapled. I slipped it deep into my pocket.

When we left the cemetery, we took Grandma to Cracker Barrel for dinner and I listened as they discussed Grandpa. I guess they'd never heard you shouldn't speak ill of the dead because there wasn't a single positive thing they had to say about him.

Mama took Grandma back to the assisted living center and headed home. I held the mysterious note in my pocket and was anxious to read it.

That evening when Mama was taking her bath, I opened the note and saw a phone number and message which read, Do not show this to anyone. Your grandfather left you something. Call me when you can.

I wondered who the old woman was and how she knew Grandpa. I couldn't imagine what he left me. I have one memory of going fishing with him before he went to prison so we didn't know each other that well. I visited him occasionally but it's hard to get to know someone when there's plexiglass between you.

I got home from work the next day around five smelling like chicken crap. I stripped off my clothes and got in the shower. I put a microwave dinner in and popped open a beer. Mama didn't like the fact I drank beer at the age of fifteen but she was too busy to address it.

She was waiting tables at Frankie's Place and wouldn't be home until way past midnight. Around eight I dialed the number.

"Hello, this is Nolan Kirby. You wanted me to call you?"

"Yes, Nolan. How are you?"


There was a pause.


"Nolan, your grandfather wanted you to have something and he left it with me."

"Who are you?"

"I'm an old friend."

"What did he leave me? A pocketknife or something?"

"How old are you, Nolan?"

I thought it was a random question but I answered. "I'm fifteen."

"Oh my," she said.

There was another pause and I listened to the woman breathing on the other end of the line as I finished my beer.


"Yes. I'm here. Would you be able to come to my house? I live in East Ridge."

East Ridge was about a thirty-minute bike ride from my house. "Sure, but I work six days a week. It'll have to be on Sunday."

"Sunday would be perfect. If you can be here at noon, I'll have lunch prepared."

I shrugged and figured I had nothing to lose visiting the old lady. She wanted to give me something and feed me. I jotted down the address and told her I'd be there.

I was paid in ten-dollar bills at the end of each day and placed four in the cookie jar for the common good and pocketed the fifth one. The only time I saw mama was on Monday and Tuesday evenings when she was off from Frankie's.

On these evenings we would have dinner together and pretend we were a normal family. Sometimes we saw each other on Sunday mornings if I got up early enough. That was the case on the Sunday I went to visit the lady.

"Where you headed, Nolan?"

"Over to Ritchie's to play video games."

"Be careful crossing the expressway."


I told the mysterious lady I wouldn't tell anyone about our visit and I kept my word. She lived in a small ranch house in an old neighborhood on Ridge Street. There was ivy growing along the sides of her house and her shrubs were wild and untamed.

I rang her doorbell around noon and she invited me in. She led me along a narrow hallway into the kitchen where the thick smell of frying chicken filled the air. I had a seat at a white linoleum table and she poured me a glass of tea as she finished up at the stove.

"So, you were a friend of my grandpa?"

"That's right. Many years ago. I'm Cynthia."

"Nice to meet you. You seem to already know who I am."

She smiled and nodded.

As I sipped on the tea, I started thinking about how we kept the visit a secret and I began to realize they might have been more than just friends.

"If Grandpa wanted me to have something, why didn't he just give it to Mama?"

Cynthia brought a large serving plate of chicken to the table. "Well, I don't exactly know, but I assume he didn't want your mother and grandmother to know." She changed the subject and we began to make small talk. When I told her I worked at a chicken house she apologized for the lunch.

"You must be sick of chicken."

"Not at all," I said. "I love fried chicken. I'm just sick of working with them when they're alive.

This made her laugh. "You seem so young to be out of school and working full time."

"I am," I said between bites. "Didn't really have a choice when Daddy left."

"You poor boy."

I shrugged. What could I say? Sucked for me. She offered me another serving of potatoes and I nodded and held my plate forward.

"I'm sure you're aware your grandfather was not the type to be satisfied with a nine to five job."

My mouth was full but I nodded and managed some words. "He was a criminal."

Cynthia didn't disagree.

She reached into the pocket of her apron and placed a key on the table. "He left this with me because he knew I was loyal and could be trusted. This unlocks a unit at Extra Space self-storage in Junction Heights. I've never looked inside because he asked me not to, but I've been paying the monthly fee for nearly ten years."

The single key rested on the white linoleum table, gleaming in the sun. A ten-year-old key with that much shine suggested that Cynthia was true to her word.

"I've tried to follow his instructions the best I can, but things don't always work out."

My attention shifted from the key to Cynthia's weary eyes.

"He asked me to wait until you were twenty-five before giving you the key. He said your brain would be better developed and your judgement would be sound."

The shining key sat on the table like a wonderful mystery.

"Why are you giving it to me now?"

She sighed, "Your grandfather must have thought I would live forever, asking me to hold the key for so long. Something's come up and I had to make a decision."

At her age I figured it wasn't good, but I didn't press for any details and she didn't elaborate.

"You know, you could always hold on to the key for another ten years until your brain is better developed."

I pretended to consider her proposal but she recognized the futility of her suggestion. We started laughing. We both knew I'd be unlocking that storage unit the first chance I got. I thanked her for the great Sunday lunch and mounted my bicycle headed for Junction Heights.

Extra Space self-storage was in a run-down section of town. Several businesses were shuttered and had tall weeds growing around them. The storage building was an ugly faded orange but at least someone was cutting the surrounding grass.

There was only one car in the parking lot and I presumed it belonged to the manager on duty. I entered the building and walked down a long quiet hallway. The layout was like a maze and it took several turns and backtracks to figure out where the unit was located. They came in three sizes and apparently Grandpa had selected a medium sized unit.

I slipped the key into a large padlock and I tried to unlock it. The key felt awkward like it didn't fit. I looked at the bottom of the padlock and saw some corrosion, which was additional evidence that Cynthia had been true to her word.

I checked my pocket and counted twelve dollars. I rode my bike to a hardware store and bought a can of WD-40. A few squirts did the trick and the lock popped open.

The heavy metal door was difficult to lift and I stopped struggling with it once it was high enough to enter. The unit was definitely climate controlled because I found it a bit chilly. I had to wait a minute or so for my eyes to adjust to the dark to find the light switch.

When I flipped it on, I found myself in a cubical filled with old dark furniture. Grandpa had been a career criminal and I'd be lying if I said I wasn't disappointed at first. Why would he want to wait until I was twenty-five to give me a bunch of dusty furniture?

I opened each drawer hoping for something of value but was disappointed to find them mainly empty. There were some old photographs, some tools, and kitchenware.

On the other side of a disassembled bed was an old dresser with a dusty briefcase resting on top. I had to crawl over a table to reach it. I placed it on top of the chest of drawers and found it was locked by little brass combination numbers over each latch. Something was sticking out of the edge of the briefcase and I pulled it out. It was an unsigned birthday card. On the inside it said, It's your birthday! I shook the briefcase and it felt empty.

The brass combination had five pivoting numbers. Why would Grandpa want me to have a briefcase I couldn't get into? I opened the card again. It's your birthday!

I was born on December 9, 1981. I rotated the numbers to read 12981. The latches popped open. The case appeared empty until I looked in the flap on the interior lid and found a sealed envelope with my name on it.

I slid an old chair up beneath the light and opened the envelope. I recognized Grandpa's handwriting from letters he'd written from prison. He never completed his O's and my name always appeared as "Nulan."

The letters from prison were usually boring and full of questions like, "Do you like your teachers this year?" or "Have you been fishing lately?"

The letter I read beneath the storage room light was nothing like his prison letters. I quickly scanned from top to bottom of the page and my eyes immediately locked onto words like, cash, and diamonds, and art heist.

End of chapter one.

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