Playing Stories — Chapter 39: The Room Where It Happens

Chapter 39: The Room Where It Happens
from the 2015 musical “Hamilton”
slipped under the door to Emily’s room at 02:00, 12 July 2019


We dream of a brand new start
But we dream in the dark for the most part

(translated from the German)

Alleyways are always the best bet for a robbery. Quiet streets are fine, but they’re too wide and sometimes you have people acting the smartarse and running away. Of course, when that happens, we have plans for that as well, but Peter and I try to avoid all that. We are both busy men, and we like it when things go to plan. So too do our customers — they hand their money over, and then we go our separate ways. Weeping and wailing just extends the awkwardness for both us and the customer. Nobody wants that.

How long have we been doing this? I have forgotten, as has Peter — we started when we were very young, learning how to swipe people’s wallets on the U-Bahn, but it was only in the past few years that we have been doing it a lot. We are very good at it, Peter and I, even when things go wrong. Only on a few occasions have we been outsmarted or threatened in return. But those are rare. We shall not speak of them. And in any case, we have adapted, improved, and for the past couple of months not a single fish has escaped out of our densely woven nets.

Perhaps you are intrigued in how we operate. There is nothing that really sets us apart from the average mugger: we simply place ourselves at different ends of an alleyway in our suburb, and then wait for an unwitting person or two to come along. It is very easy to surprise such passers-by: these alleyways are plentiful throughout our city and our little neighbourhood is particularly full of them. To apprehend someone is easy if you know where you are going; a stranger to this place would find themselves perplexed by this dense jungle of concrete twists and stony turns. But we have lived here all our lives; we know the shortcuts. We know where the best spots are.

Consider the scene of our crime tonight, a small side road leading into the heart of Theresienfeld. The government has termed this a street, though it is so narrow at places that I very much wonder if there was some mistake at the naming office. On one end is the backyard of the Josefkirke, on the other is a youth hostel that is somewhat popular with young tourists, and a bend in the streets hides one from the other. So it is ideal for our operations, as there are people who can pass through without noticing our presence. For instance, here is a couple walking. They are intent on each other, the man is gazing at the woman, the woman gazing at the cobblestones. “… talk in your room for a bit tonight, just to reset and everything before I go,” he breathes to her in English. His voice is louder than he suspects, and it provides Peter with the perfect cue to step out of the shadows. Ah, tourists — they are always perfect customers, with their cash and their panic.

Peter is the larger of us two, and so it is he who walks into the street, his ample frame blocking any chance of escape. The woman — young, fresh-faced, eager — she sees him first. Instinctively she grabs at the first thing at hand, which happens to be the coat of her boyfriend. For a moment I consider signalling Peter to let them pass, but then the girl screams. “THOMAS.” He looks up. No time to lose — I follow them into the alleyway, knife already on hand. We know the routine, and with any luck those will be the only words she has screamed in our presence.

“Hey, what’s going on…” the man says in English. Ah, tourists — perfect customers, always having a bit of cash. A pity they are not older. Peter only grins and walks closer to them, and they shrink backwards. The young man — barely more than a boy! — he looks backwards, and sees me advancing. “Oh God. Oh God. Oh God,” he keeps repeating. So he knows that there is no escape.

The girl looks at him expectantly. “Thomas… Thomas, get us out of here. Get us out of here now.” Her voice is steady, she is trying to gain control of the situation. But Peter is already there: before they can say anything more, he places his hands on their shoulders and snaps his fingers.

It is always a marvel to see the clouds descend over their eyes. Peter demonstrated it on me once, and let me tell you that I have never felt amazed at anything since then. The complete darkness that comes over you, the sudden lifting of the veil to find that everything around you has disappeared, that there is only darkness around you — that is a journey that can never be repeated. I would like to think that, even in their desperation, they can still admire what Peter has achieved.

“Where are you, Mo?” The two of them stumble on the cobblestones like headless chickens, their arms outstretched. Peter has done a good job with his illusions today. “Mo? MORGAN?” The man rounds on me, clutching at my sleeve. I smile and point the knife at him, and he backs off slightly. Behind him, his girlfriend, or whoever she is, hovers just out of his reach, off in a nothingness of her own.

“Your girlfriend is safe. Do not worry. Hand over your cash money and she will come back.” I grimace at my German accent: despite my attempts I still sound like I have come from the countryside. No matter: he is already pulling out his wallet. A glimpse of cards, of emblems — this man is obviously important back where he is from. But I distract myself with these observations: his identity is not of consequence now unless he happens to be a policeman. He hands over a few banknotes — displeasingly little for a tourist. We push him aside and Peter makes us visible to the woman.

The woman looks at us with a start, realizing our presence. “What have you done with my friend?” she asks in German. Her eyes are wide with passion. This will be difficult.

“He is safe. And will be as long as you hand over your money.”

She stares at us coldly. “I shall scream if you do not release us.”

Peter walks closer to her. She stiffens and backs away towards me. I shoot Peter a look: no closer, or we risk this turning into something else. “We would prefer that you did not,” he simply says in a softer growl, waving his knife around as if it were a conductor’s baton.

She moans in frustration, and turns back to me — and in that split second, her friend stumbles in front of her. For a moment, she freezes. Her eyes narrow, almost quizzical in the way she sniffs out the air. I grip my knife tighter: surely she will not see through the deception, surely she will not find her partner in a fateful grab? I do not want to step in so quickly, not when our spoils are so close at hand.

A few seconds pass. The air is almost silent, the chatter at the market beyond the church only a low murmur. Then her panic reasserts itself, and she reaches into her wallet. Her muscles are tense and Peter shifts slightly. She notices. “I am only taking out the goddamn money, you bastard.” The cash handover is slower, more deliberate. I count the banknotes — not too bad a haul — and Peter brings them back to reality. They blink, their eyes adjusting to the faded blues of the skies above. “Morgan!” They rush towards each other, but I hold them back. “There is one more thing we must do,” I grin. “Say goodbye to us from your life — forever.”

“It’s just life,” I say, in the best English I can muster. Then it is my turn to summon the clouds over their eyes once more, before they can say anything to shake our faith. They close their eyes, and their heavy bodies fall forwards. We make sure they do not land head-first — a tourist with a smashed brain in the middle of a bustling city always raises questions. As they stir on the ground of the Theresienfeld, the memories of the last few minutes erased forever from their minds, we make our escape through the alleyways — just another two passers-by, walking through the old city. I check my watch: barely two minutes have passed. We are professionals, like it or not — and we know that we have to make this night last. What shall we spend our gains on tonight? Perhaps a drink at the beerhouse…

And that is it. That is all that happens during one of our robberies. You were expecting a happy ending for the couple? It has been three weeks since that particular robbery, and not once have we been approached by law enforcement. Maybe five or ten years down the line, when we have gotten too cocky. Maybe then we will be handcuffed by a couple of sweaty policemen, chained to a desk and be leered at by all the other criminals. Maybe that will happen someday. But not tonight, my dears. Not tonight.


Of course. Can I come in?

Q

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