Tom sipped his whisky and looked around the small pub. It was exactly as he remembered, with its neon lights and dark shadows, the smell of alcohol and vomit that permeated the entire room, and even the tilted wooden model of a bike that adorned its wall. Nothing had changed in this establishment, just like the town outside was unchanged in sixteen years. Sixteen years! He let out a long sigh and sipped his poison.
A tap on his shoulder brought him out of his reverie.
“Tom?” came the astonished voice he still recognized so well. Against the light, all he could see was a shadow. “God bless my soul. Is this really you?”
“Harry! My old friend. It is good to see you. You haven’t changed a bit,” gushed Tom, arising from the stool and hugging the man tightly.
“Can’t say the same for you. You seem to have done well in the world,” said Harry looking at Tom from head to toe.
Tom smiled. “Oh, this,” he said, waving at his expensive outfit and showing off the diamond rings on his fingers. “This is nothing. You should visit me sometime in London or Paris. I can treat you to anything you want, for old time’s sake. So, how have you been all these years? What do you do?”
“Oh, you know me,” said Harry, ordering a beer. “I’ve been here all these years, work in a government department. What about you? You won a lottery or something after you left town?”
Tom guffawed. “Just hard work, Harry,” he said, lighting a cigarette and blowing perfect rings of smoke in the air.
They reminisced about the childhood they had spent together, the pranks they had played, the troubles they had gotten into.
“Remember when I stole the principal’s diary?” said Tom. “He spanked you so hard to get you to tell my name. But you, my friend, didn’t open your mouth because you could not put me in trouble, and neither could you lie.” They both laughed as they remembered those days.
“Well,” said Harry. “We both were a troublesome twosome back then. I’d hate for my kids to be like that. Always getting into trouble.”
“I agree. If we could go back, I would ensure we didn’t get caught so often,” laughed Tom, flicking his cigarette butt on the ground.
“If we could go back, I would ensure we walked the straight path,” said Harry, picking up the butt and shaking his head. “Don’t litter,” he said smiling and got up to leave. “I will take your leave now. My wife will be waiting for me. It was wonderful to meet you. How long are you here? I will catch up with you again before you leave.”
“Only for two more days, and then I have some work in London. Let’s meet for breakfast the day after tomorrow at the hotel. Anything interesting going on here to while away my time?”
“Just this exhibition of rare experiments at Eileen Donan Castle. If you go, you should check out the rooster.”
“Rooster? Did I hear that right?”
“It is no ordinary rooster, Tom. I shouldn’t be telling you this, but it is the first one to be cloned with altered genes that have given it a lifespan of maybe a hundred years!” whispered Harry, his speech slurring a little. “Not many people know about it. The government has banned such research. It is anyone’s guess what certain agencies would do to get a hand on even a small sample of its blood. If word got out, people would kill for it.”
Tom bade Harry goodbye and walked straight to his hotel. This was not going to be a mere vacation after all. Harry, his good old friend, had unknowingly helped him again. Harry, the one who would reveal anything after a few pints of beer. Tom laughed out loud and rubbed his hands together in glee.
All night he lay awake planning the heist in detail. There was little time to research and make elaborate plans, but it would do. It was the opportunity of a lifetime, one that could potentially set him free for the rest of his life, and if Harry were to be believed, even his future generations would never want for anything.
If Harry were to be believed! He shrugged his shoulders. Harry was always to be believed. He was the most truthful man Tom had ever known, gullible to a fault, and one who would not lie even to save his own skin. “Silly old Harry,” muttered Tom, returning to his plans. Thankfully, he always carried his equipment with him.
The following day, he left on the first ferry with a group of tourists to visit the Eileen Donan Castle. The castle was just as he remembered it. Another unchanging sight in these areas. He walked with his group, following their guide, till they finally arrived at the exhibition room. While the people walked past the transistors and ancient computers, Tom went over to a small cage in a corner. There it was. Nothing was written on the board near it. No one had to know anything about it. The rooster stared at Tom before letting out a loud cock-a-doodle-doo. As the others’ eyes turned towards him, Tom jumped back to join the rest of his group.
He noticed the security cameras and their type, noting their exact positions. He made a mental note of the guards and where they were stationed. He could easily handle it. He had all the equipment he needed, acquired at a considerable expense. But it had been an investment that had paid off handsomely over the years.
They walked outside to Dornie and saw the Cuillin mountain range of Skye and the Five Sisters of Kintail. He skipped the trip to the Falls of Glomach and returned to the ferry. His alarm was safely hidden inside. All he needed to do now was wait for the night.
Darkness swept over the entire landscape as Tom proceeded quietly towards the castle, this time by the bridge. The castle was closed for visitors at this hour, and its shadow against the bright moon looked both majestic and ominous at the same time.
He took his position outside and waited for the game to begin. Anytime now. He got ready, pulling his mask over his face. Suddenly, the silence was broken by a blaring sound from inside the castle. The guards looked around in confusion. Finally, as Tom had predicted, they ran inside, leaving their posts.
This was his opportunity. He slipped in, a shadow among the shadows. He had planted the alarm on the far side, and he was confident that the guards would still be trying to find it.
He placed a tiny machine near the exhibition room and pressed a button. The device did its magic and jammed all the cameras in the vicinity.
There was no one in the exhibition room. The cage lay right before him with the rooster inside, alert at the sudden sounds and excitement that seemed out of place with the time of day. Just as it opened its beak to crow, Tom sprayed it with a chemical, and it fell, unconscious. Tom picked up the cage, cleared his devices and all traces of his ever being present, and retraced his steps. Before the guards found the beeping device, Tom was already heading toward the bridge.
This had been much easier than he had expected. He was proud to be the most elusive thief on the continent. No one knew his identity. People contacted him through the dark web, where he had put in place layers of security. No trace was ever found in any of his crime scenes that led to him. No one even suspected him. He had never made a mistake.
He had planned for multiple contingencies with his hi-tech devices and weapons, though none were required today. It had been as easy as the small pranks in his childhood. He hid the rooster outside his old home, in a run-down building where he used to hide his loot as a child.
He would put out word about the rooster the next day. If Harry were right about the rooster’s importance, people in the know would contact him soon. He returned to his hotel and slept soundly, a dreamless sleep after a day well-spent and a job well done.
A knocking sound on his door awakened him. He rubbed his crusted eyes and walked cautiously towards the door.
“Who is it?”
“Hey, Tom. It’s Harry.”
Tom opened the door and invited his friend. “You are here early,” he said.
“Yes, had some important work to do today and wanted an early start. So, you plan to leave today? Did you go to the exhibition?”
“I will leave in an hour or so. And yeah, I went to the castle. The entire town is still the same. I’m sure it will be the same if I come after sixteen years. Some things never change.”
“But some things do. That’s the irony of time,” said Harry softly as he sat down on the chair. “Do you know that the rooster is gone? Someone stole it yesterday.”
“Really?” said Tom feigning surprise. “How is that possible? I saw it in the afternoon when I went there.”
“But the good thing is that the police have found evidence, a cigarette butt which has the thief’s fingerprints.”
“How do you know it is the thief’s? It could have been thrown by anyone who visited the castle.”
“Oh. The thief was brilliant. He took out all the cameras before he stole the rooster. The camera feed shows no cigarette butt in the room, but the police found one when they searched the place.”
Tom was confused. How was that possible? He hadn’t lit a cigarette there. He never made such rookie mistakes while on a job. Whose cigarette butt could it be? Anyway, he didn’t have time for all this.
“Well, my friend, I better get dressed now. I have to leave shortly. It was great meeting you. I hope the thief is found, though I doubt the capabilities of the police team here,” he said, winking.
“Ah, you will find things have changed here. The police have already found their man,” said Harry.
Tom couldn’t suppress a smile. “Really?” he scoffed. Nothing had changed. They still caught the wrong guys.
Harry rose from the chair. “You have the right to remain silent. By the powers vested in me, I….”
“What? What are you doing?” stammered Tom.
“You see, it was your cigarette butt that we found,” said Harry, taking out his police badge.
“That’s impossible. I didn’t smoke.”
“Not there, you didn’t. But you did at the pub,” said Harry. “You see this ring you have on your finger?” He pointed to a diamond ring on Tom’s left hand. “I recognized this as the diamond stolen from Berlin five years ago. It did not take long for me to figure out who you were and what you had become. I hoped you had changed, but you are still the same, a thief, stealing, only bigger things. My love for diamonds has not changed, but I have. I am not going to take a beating for you again.”
Tom slumped on the bed. So, Harry had not told him about the rooster in an inebriated state but had set him up with a story that he knew Tom couldn’t resist. There was no super rooster. It was all Harry’s trick. He planted the cigarette butt at the crime scene, evidence that would help take him in while the police searched all his assets and found other evidence.
“You can’t do this, not to me, Harry,” he cried.
“Oh, but I can. And I will. You are under arrest, my friend.”
- Name: Thief
- Place: Eileen Donan Castle
- Animal: Hen/Rooster
- Thing: Discarded cigarette butt