The mechanism clicked in front of me. I motioned for David to help me with the vault door. Nodding, he grabbed hold and we slowly inched the giant circular slab of metal aside. Its well-maintained hinges betraying nothing, only a soft, heavy sigh of air came forth as we stepped into the room beyond. I heard us both release a steady stream of breath and tension we’d been holding since we entered the building. I could feel a grin overcoming my face. David whistled softly.
“It’s certainly something...” I murmured to myself as we stepped forward. The vault was filled with currency, trinkets and all manner of material wealth. But the crown king of this empire of riches lay dead ahead, against the opposite wall.
“This is it...” whispered David. “The old man’s collection of famous gemstone figures...” We walked towards the assembly of priceless artifacts, transfixed by the array of sparkling statues. It had taken some work to get here, but we'd done it. I gulped, mouth dry.
“...well, remember we can only carry one.” I said after a moment of silence.
“Yeah yeah, I know” replied David, a smile forming on his lips. “Luckily...I’ve just spotted exactly what the boss was asking for.” As he spoke, he moved to the far side of the pedestal of precious figures and gently pulled one to the front. “The Sapphire Duck” he whispered triumphantly as he shifted the shimmering mallard into view.
My face fell as David beheld the bird. No that...he wasn’t really suggesting...? Unfortunately I knew by the expression on his face that he was dead serious. As if to confirm my thoughts, he stopped admiring the statue and looked my way.
“Well, c’mon then John” he said. “Pass over the bag and let's get out of here.”
I really, really didn’t want to bring this up now of all times, but it looked like I had no choice. I took a deep breath, looked David straight in the eye and said: “David...are you sure that the boss asked for the Sapphire Duck?”
The silence dropped like a deadweight as David’s expression went blank, not making a move apart from blinking slowly in my direction. He pursed his lips, breathed in, and stage whispered: “...are you fucking kidding me, John?”
“Now listen Dave –“
“Don’t ‘listen Dave’ me! Do you realize how god damn important this is?!”
“Well of course I fucking realize, but –“
“You’re telling me that I would go on the most important heist of life and not remember –“
“I mean I’m not saying –“
“Oh, oh really because I think that’s exactly what you’re saying right now!”
“Now look this is more important than –“
“I know it’s important, fucking hell! I am telling you John, telling you with one fucking hundred percent certainty that the boss asked us for the Sapphire Duck!”
“And I...” I paused, suddenly self-conscious of how loud we were getting, and composed myself. Back to a whisper, I continued “I am ‘one fucking hundred percent’ certain that the boss asked us to get the Ruby Sparrow.”
David stared at me in disbelief for a second, his arms hanging loosely at his sides. His lowered his head and opened his mouth slightly, as if he were hoping the right words would fly into it. “Ruby...Sparrow” he said, deadpan. “Is there even a god damn Ruby Sparrow in here?”
I pointed silently to the other end of the pedestal, where I had spotted the statue of the shining red bird. David stared at it in silence for a moment, turned his head back to me, and looked me dead in the eye. “...You’re wrong” he said flatly. “I went over that conversation with the boss a hundred times, and I am absolutely positive that he didn’t want any damn rubies.”
There was a measured silence as we gazed into each other’s furrowed brows. “...I’m sorry, Dave, but I am equally positive,” I said, “that the boss didn’t ask for a damn duck.”
“Well how the hell do you know he wanted a sparrow?!”
“I distinctly remember the picture had a beak!”
“A bill is a type of beak, you moron!”
“I know what a fucking bill is, asshole!”
“Yeah dumbass, a bill is what we won’t be able to pay if we take the wrong fucking statue!”
“Well then hurry up and realize your mistake, dickbag!”
“Alright, just shut your fucking face for a second!”
I kept silent for a moment as we sat there glaring at each other, steam practically rising from our pores. There was no way I was going to lose my hard earned cash because of this idiot. As I was trying to think of how to convince him, David spoke up again.
“...look. John, you’re not going to shut the fuck up about this, are you? You’re absolutely sure of yourself?”
“Damn right I am.”
“Well, so am I! So...how about a compromise?”
My mouth thinned as I glowered at Dave. “...what did you have in mind?”
“We can’t afford to waste too much time here so we have to decide now. Rock paper scissors. Winner gets to take their statue with them, and if it turns out they’re wrong, which you are, then they accept full responsibility.”
My expression didn’t lighten, but I have to admit there was a growing pit of concern in my stomach. We had been pretty loud in the heat of the argument, and though there wasn’t supposed to be anyone nearby at this hour...he had a point.
“Fucking hell” I said. “You’re making this more difficult than it needs to be Dave...but fine.”
He nodded silently, and held out his hand. I held mine in turn. He whispered the countdown: “Three...two...one...shoot!”
There was silence for a moment. My clenched fist shook at the sight of the open hand in front of it. I couldn’t look Dave in the eye, the smug bastard.
“Cheer up, John” Dave said as we bagged the Sapphire Duck and walked out of the vault. “When we get back you’ll realize this was the right decision.”
If either of us had noticed a statue at the back of the pedestal, fallen on its side, we would have felt pretty fucking stupid. Had I been looking, I bet the last ray of light before we closed the door would have revealed the silhouette of the Sapphire Sparrow...