‘Target in sight,’ Anne whispered, pointing at the window.
It took me a moment to track her line of vision—my eyes had been getting progressively worse, but if I ever told anyone about it, I’d be terminated from all forthcoming missions—and there it was, on the wooden centre table, recently unwrapped and in plain view of anyone who was in level with the window. The family had gathered around the fireplace, excitedly opening presents and sharing food and drink. Christmas was always the busiest time of the year for us, with dozens of orders pouring in each day. The victims also never saw it coming amongst all the festive cheer. It was a win-win.
‘How long do we wait?’
Anne scanned the area.
‘Just a couple of minutes more.’
We called in the lookouts to set up a perimeter. We’d never needed them before, but the Barnes lived in a particularly affluent neighbourhood and we had to be cautious.
‘When you are,’ I gulped.
She clawed through the bushes and walked up to the front door. I positioned myself under the living room window, heart pounding; I hadn’t been on this important a mission in a long time.
Our plan was simple: Anne was to pretend to be a carol singer and lure the entire family away. She cleared her throat before beginning with Silent Night. I’d found her practising all morning and it seemed to be her favourite; she always had a small smile playing on her lips as she sung it, the kind that made her eyes shine. I hadn’t seen that happen too often.
The adults reacted first, perking up at the sound of her magnificent singing voice. Soon the children had noticed, and the whole family was drawn out to the front door within a minute.
I managed to pry the window open and braced myself for any alarms to go off—they shouldn’t have, we’d made sure that they’d only be activated once the whole family went to bed—and climbed over the sill and into the living room. I slid my bare feet across the floorboards, not trusting myself to keep them from creaking under the weight of my steps. Beads of sweat rolled down my face as I inched closer to the centre table. I was almost there.
And then without warning, I heard footsteps down the hallway. I panicked and looked around for the nearest armchair and slid into a crouching position behind it. They seemed to be continuing down the hallway toward the kitchen, so I was saved. I breathed a sigh of relief before getting back up on my feet and rushing towards the target.
‘Target acquired,’ I whispered, into the mouthpiece hidden in the neck of my polo shirt.
Once outside, I shut the window behind me carefully, slipped back into the bushes and ordered the lookouts to extract themselves from the area. I waited while Anne finished with the last few notes of her carol and the kids dropped a few dollars into the tiny tin she’d been carrying. She was halfway down the street and the family was settling back into their living room again, before I called in the success of our mission.
I slipped out of my hiding place and headed in the opposite direction that Anne was headed. We were meant to rendezvous at a dumpster two streets over.
‘Jack!’ she called, ten minutes later, as I jogged toward her.
‘How did we do?’ she asked eagerly. She despised not having an earpiece on her and not having minute-by-minute updates, but we couldn’t risk her being found out.
‘Well…’ I shrugged, determined to keep her in suspense.
‘You better have that teddy bear on you,’ she warned, probing me with her eyes.
‘Lo and behold,’ I grinned, handing it to her.
‘It’s perfect,’ her eyes widened as she looked down upon it. ‘This is brilliant, Jack,’ she cried, hugging me.
I blushed. Anne had never been one to express herself so blatantly. I mumbled incoherently as my heart swooned with pride. We walked away from the neighbourhood in high spirits, talking of celebration and rewards.
‘Travis?’ I called in, a little skip in my step, ‘Tell Marco that we’re on our way home. He’s got one hell of a birthday present to wrap up for little Lucy!’