Leap Year Dare
The treats Morgan had packed into the picnic hamper were beginning to feel as if they were made from concrete rather than cheese and chocolate and pastry. Maybe non-alcoholic champagne bottles weighed more than those holding regular champagne. Regular had definitely been in her plans until Toby told her he was working again tonight, of all nights. But she’d adapted, she wasn’t going to let this chance slip, another four years was too long to wait.
Now though, having grappled the hamper on the tube and all the way here, she wished she’d just included the orange juice part of the buck's fizz. A cardboard carton had to be so much lighter. Morgan crossed the road. Ahead of her, lit up for the night, the museum looked like something out of a fantasy story, a fairytale castle with its magnificently carved facade and towers. A place where romantic dreams came true.
She looked up at the ornately carved entrance doors, locked and bolted now to the general public, and smiled at the thought of Toby behind them somewhere, making sure everything stayed safe, looking as sexy as anything in his black suit with his white shirt strained over his biceps hiding his magnificent abs and the tattoos her parents would hate. A security guard wasn’t anywhere close to the solicitor, doctor or teacher they wanted her to marry but once she introduced him to them, his charm would win them over. And if it didn’t, well, she wasn’t a teenager who needed their permission.
The picnic hamper banged into her legs as she turned the corner into the side street where the staff entrance was as closed up as she expected. She changed hands again, holding the weight out from her body so the wicker ends didn’t ladder her tights. Everything had to go perfectly, just as she’d daydreamed it.
* * *
Toby flicked through the cameras monitoring the outside of the museum. The grey-on-grey shades showed him the surrounding streets were as quiet and deserted as normal. Good. He ran his hands down his trousers, held them out in front of him. Steady, good. Deep breath, as though it was just a regular night.
He checked his watch. Not long. The cameras cycled to the interior views. Silent and empty, just Toby and the ancient past. But then he saw something very much alive, or rather someone, wandering through the Egyptian Hall. The figure stopped in front of the crown of their exhibit, hands held behind his back, staring.
Toby left the hub office and walked through the main hall, the cavernous space whispering his footsteps on the marble tiles back to him. He liked the subdued after-hours lighting, the green twinkles at the exits, it was calming, reassuring. Past the information point he scooped up a discarded coffee cup from the glass counter and threw it in the nearest bin, taking a left through the ‘Day of the Dead’ temporary exhibit. He cut through the ‘staff access only’ door into the Egyptian Hall.
Dr Mueller was exactly where Toby had seen him on the CCTV: standing at the head of the display case, still staring at the alabaster and gold statue inside it.
“You’re here late, doc.” Toby said. “You know you don’t have to watch over her, she’s quite safe in there.”
He smoothed his beard, shook his head. “I’m lamenting that I let her out for public display before I was ready.”
“You know as soon as the exhibition’s over, you’ll get her back.” Toby nodded towards the end of the gallery to where hidden behind another ‘staff access only’ door, was the labyrinthine corridors housing rooms of artefacts and antiquities, stored securely to be circled into and out of display, restored or further researched to ascertain their significance or otherwise.
“But she has so much to teach me.” The researcher protested. “Those markings on the stand, the switch in carving techniques from what we can prove was used up until her birth, the—”
“And, in the end, the ticket receipts she generates will allow you to study her for longer.” Toby pointed out.
“Money, the scourge of us all.” Dr Mueller said.
“Helpful here though, right?” Toby laughed. “Come on, why don’t you go home. You’ll need your brain fighting fit tomorrow for your other projects.”
“You have a point, young man. Take good care of her.” Dr Mueller gestured at the glass case, careful to not touch it and set off any of the alarms.
“You have my word. Goodnight.” Toby walked back to his office, where his landline ringing made his heart jump.
“Is that the delectable Toby Denton?” The voice on the other end purred.
Despite the terrible timing, he couldn’t but smile at Morgan’s voice. “Hey, what’re you up to?”
“Hoping you’ll let me in.”
“I’m outside, let me in, it’s freezing.”
Even though he couldn’t make out much of the detail of the grey figure outside the staff entrance, it wasn’t Morgan’s long dark curls or her light-up-her-face smile that made his heart race. She couldn’t be there. “What’re you doing here?”
“I’m certainly surprised, I can’t let you in.”
“Why not? I know you’re conscientious but who’s going to know? It’s not like I’m about to make off with one of the exhibits.”
“But there are researchers here, you’ll be seen, I can’t make them lie about you being here.” He panicked and made it worse. “And all the cleaning equipment. . .”
She laughed. “The cleaning equipment? Trust me I have no intention of going near that."
“The museum insurance won’t cover you, if there was an accident.”
“The only accident is that you might get a little distracted.”
Why tonight, of all nights? “I’m really sorry but I can’t let you in.” Toby could feel the tension tightening down the phone between them. “Go home, call me when you get back, so I know you’re safe. I’ll make it up to you tomorrow, I promise.”
Had Dr Mueller left yet? Toby switched the cameras back to interior mode and cycled through all the views. Not there. One thing going right.
“You have a serious debt to pay now.” Morgan was saying.
But she’d gone. He’d upset her again, just like earlier when he’d had to break their plans to come in. “Sorry, babe.” He whispered to the dead handset. If he only got mobile signal in there, he’d text her a line of hearts.
“Everything okay?” The voice through his earpiece made him jump.
Of course, they’d have heard his side of the conversation with Morgan.
“Everything green,” he responded, “all on schedule.”
* * *
The man with the white beard stopped short as he was stepping out of the staff entrance.
“Sorry,” Morgan said, “I didn’t mean to startle you. I’m Toby’s girlfriend, the security guard, Toby. We had plans but then he had to work, so I brought dinner with me to surprise him but he won’t let me in.”
“He’s a good security guard. We have a lot of treasures inside.”
She couldn’t help her sigh. “He always has to work.”
“You understand no refreshments are allowed in the exhibit areas.”
“Of course not, but I was hoping we could share dinner in his office.”
The man considered, began nodding. “Maybe that will be all right.” He held the door open wider for her to slip inside. “Just stay away from the exhibit halls, you understand?”
Morgan could have hugged him. “Thank you so much, I really appreciate that, Toby will too.”
“After your picnic, ask him to show you the goddess of love in the Egyptian Hall.” He smiled. “She is a wonder.”
Morgan walked up the steps to the half-glazed doors at the top and pushed one open. The solid silence on the other side was its own noise. She tiptoed into the dimly lit place where shadows reached towards her from the unseen corners as she huffed the picnic hamper along.
Where would Toby’s office be? Probably somewhere near the entrance. She stopped beside one of the huge glass rectangular cases that protected the antiquities from the modern world.
“You’re very demanding.” She told it. “For inanimate objects, you have more call on my boyfriend than I do.”
She recognised a sarcophagus in the next display case, she must be in the Egyptian Hall. It seemed safe enough to set up her picnic there - all the exhibits were either completely encased or on pedestals far enough away from the floor to not be troubled by stray crumbs. And where better to have a romantic picnic than at the feet of the goddess of love? But which one was she?
Did it matter? They were all special.
Morgan flicked out the blanket and scrabbled over it to pull the corners as straight as she could. In the centre she placed the small red candle, LED, not a real flame, of course. And around that she laid the boxes of food she’d brought, adding the strawberries and chocolates one on each side at the top. She squinted; Toby might not understand that was supposed to be a heart. Oh, well, it was the intention that counted.
She stood the bottle of non-alcoholic champagne carefully to the side; it had probably been shaken enough. Oh, but maybe she should bring that out once he said yes. Otherwise, there wouldn’t be anything to celebrate.
Of course, he was going to say yes. They might not have been an item for long, but six months was enough for her to know he was the one for her. And she was sure he felt the same, sure enough to buy him a ring, even though he didn’t wear them, sure enough to be brave enough to pop the question to him on this special night. February 29th, it had a magical almost mystical sense to it. And being in the subdued lighting in the museum, surrounded by artefacts that had silently watched lovers through the centuries, felt so romantic, she could have set up her picnic next to a mound of slag from the Industrial Revolution and it would still have felt special enough to make up for every broken date they’d had.
She left the ring in its box in the hamper, the champagne beside the feast. Now she just needed her groom-to-be.
* * *
Toby checked his watch. “Show time.”
He scrolled through the external views on the camera and there it was, right on time. Even in the grey on grey on black shades the CCTV showed him, the van was nondescript, one any potential witnesses would never be able to identify because they saw so many of them everywhere every day.
He raised the barrier and the van silently drove into the underground parking, past the minibus sponsored by the museum, whose garish pink and green slogans looked curiously unjarring in the different shades of grey, past two vans, past a couple of cars. The driver parked up with the rear facing the loading area, back doors open.
One, two, three, Toby counted them out, the driver would stay put as planned in case they needed a hasty exit. He released the personnel door beside the up and over roller door before the leader reached it. Eddie Morales wasn’t a man who liked to be kept waiting.
Toby sprinted to the loading bay. The sounds of the wheeled crates clanked and squealed ahead of him. Someone laughed, loud in the silence, banter like they’d already made it.
Even in their balaclavas, it was easy to recognise who was who.
“Seems like you were right, fella.” Marcus slapped Toby on the back, almost knocking him into Clark. The man had muscles on his muscles.
“Glad you listened to me now? I told you this is the right way to do it.”
Even though just his mouth and eyes were visible, Toby could tell Clark was glowering at him. Clark glowered at everything.
“Don’t count your chickens,” Eddie warned, pulling off his balaclava and checking his hair was still slicked back as it should be. The shortest, slightest, most dangerous of them, he liked to think he was part of the royalty of the London underworld. No one was brave enough to point out that he wasn’t.
“It’s all good this end.” Toby said the words they wanted to hear. “Why else do you think I’ve been working this crappy job so long?”
Marcus pushed his balaclava up onto the top of his head and grinned. “That’s my man.”
“Follow me,” Toby said, “and I’ll show you the promised land, where the real treasures are kept.” He looked at Marcus who was assuming the position of guard at the door. “No one can get in without me lifting the barrier, we’re good. You’re better off coming to help load up, faster that way.”
“Who died,” Eddie asked, “and left you in charge?”
Toby stood taller. “This is my domain, my expertise, that’s what you’re paying me for, isn’t it?”
Eddie considered for a moment that grew heavy. Then nodded, “we all go, lead on.”
Toby took them through the corridors to the researchers’ areas at the back of the building. He unlocked one of the ornate doors and held it open for Clark and Marcus to push the wheeled crates in.
Eddie let it go as he walked in and Toby cringed as the door slammed behind them.
“Jumpy, aren’t you?” Clark said. “If we’re alone, what’s the deal?”
“We are alone, like I told you,” Toby reassured him. He snapped every other switch on the wall panel, lightning up the long room. “Night shift's a one-man show. And tonight, it was just me till you showed up.”
“We’ll get the other crates.” Marcus and Clark left Eddie with Toby.
Toby watched Eddie assessing the old wooden cabinets and cupboards and all sizes of tables as he walked around the huge space. He lifted the oil cloths covering each of the easels along the window wall, peered at the collection of paints, brushes, pallet knives and jars of who knew what huddled on the wheeled trollies that hairdressers used in front of them.
Then huffed. “This don’t look much.”
“Do you trust me?” Toby levelled a stare at him. He knew Eddie responded best to confidence, he knew he could sniff out and would turn on weakness. Nerves had no place in that room.
“I didn’t, you wouldn’t be here. Neither would we. And none of us would be looking at our biggest payday, if what you say is true.” He added. “Plus, I brought a little persuasion.” Eddie unzipped his black jacket while holding Toby’s gaze. He opened the left side so Toby could see the gun in a holster under his armpit.
Toby swallowed. Eddie’s reputation preceded him, but it was one thing guessing he might be armed and another completely seeing the gun right there within easy reach of his twitchy fingers.
“Just us here,” he coughed to clear the squeak from his voice, “you don’t need that.”
“It’d take a lot more than your word to make me leave home without it. It’s a dangerous world out here.” He let his jacket close. “What’re you waiting for? Get on with it, impress me.”
* * *
Morgan looked up. A door slamming, that’s what she’d heard echoing through the silence. A squeal on the floor, a surprisingly loud voice and a reply. She looked back at her picnic, spread out like an accusation that she was breaking the rules of no refreshments in the exhibit halls.
The voices faded then were guillotined to silence by a closing door. Maybe she could get whoever that was to lead Toby to where she wanted him. That was worth a shot.
She got to her feet and followed the echo.
She almost called out to the muscly man ahead of her before her brain caught her up with what she was seeing. And began screaming at her.
His clothes weren’t the suit of Toby’s uniform: his was utility trousers, a zipped-up jacket, gloves and trainers, all black, black, black. He pushed something that looked like a deep white plastic storage crate on wheels. Ahead of him was another man, leaner, dressed the same, pushing another crate.
As he passed beneath one of the emergency lights, she saw the face of the first man. Her heart jackhammered in her chest. She ducked behind the closest exhibit, a statue on a plinth that wasn’t nearly as wide as she needed it to be. She held herself rigid, not touching it. Don’t knock it, don’t nudge it, don’t make the artefact fall off.
Please don’t let the men see her.
Please don’t let them realise she was there.
Her brain had got stuck on what the man was wearing. A black balaclava. Who wore a balaclava indoors? Only bank robbers. Or museum robbers. Because there was a lot worth stealing here, that’s why Toby had to work so often.
Toby. What would he do? Did he even know they were inside? Maybe, they weren’t exactly being quiet. But the museum was huge, he could be totally oblivious on the other side of the building. She had to find him and warn him.
Another door slammed. There were more of them?
Morgan took her shoes off and tiptoe ran to the end of the corridor, squeezing herself through the door, pressing it closed as quietly as if she didn’t want to wake a sleeping dog. She ran faster through the Egyptian Hall, out the other side into the next exhibit. Following the brightly lit green ‘way out’ signs, she rushed through the atrium.
The grand staircase was on her right, so she ran left. Before the gift shop, she saw the illuminated sign, security. Not a wooden door but a modern grey one with a chrome label, Office Hub, staff only. No key card access, she knocked at the door, hoping only Toby would open it.
“Toby,” she hissed, knocked again.
The door opened easily when she tried it. Inside was a hub, a large space with lots of monitors on one wall, two doors leading off it to other administrative spaces and all of them empty of anything other than PC equipment, printer photocopiers and what looked like the remains of a white iced cake on a plate on one desk.
Not there. He wasn’t there. Morgan’s mind had moved on from the balaclava but now it had got stuck on where Toby could be. She pulled out her mobile but the signal in there was as good as he told her it was. Zero bars.
He was security, the men in balaclavas were burglars. It didn’t take much for her to imagine him tied up somewhere, bound, gagged, with a dribble of blood rolling down his neck.
She had to save him.
* * *
Toby waited for Marcus and Clark to come back in before he crossed to the tall cabinet of tiny drawers on the opposite side to the windows. “This is the Aladdin’s cave. Look.”
“That’s worth something?” Clark asked.
“It is actually.” Toby pulled the top drawer out and placed it carefully on the nearest table. “But not as much as this.” He pulled back the white fleece cloth and Clark let out a low whistle.
“That all real?”
“Even the fakes from back in those days are priceless.” Toby said.
Eddie pushed between them to see. “You can ogle when we’re out of here. Get it stowed.”
* * *
Morgan picked up the phone handset on Toby’s desk and pressed 999 but she couldn’t hear the call connecting, she couldn’t hear anything other than dead air. She put the handset down and listened this time before dialling. No ringtone. How could the phone not be working; she’d called Toby on it just a little while ago. Then she understood: they’d cut the phone lines. These criminals were professionals.
She stared at the cameras, while her pulse pounded in her ears and her stomach tightened. The views showed different exhibit halls and what looked like the rear entrance, where an up and over door and a personnel door were both closed. But none of them held her boyfriend. What were they doing to Toby, even now while she tried to work out what she could do to save him?
She had to be faster.
But faster at what?
* * *
Clark picked up the drawer and tipped the contents into the base of one of the wheeled crates. The clatter and ding of old gold made Toby wince.
“What’re you doing?” His voice was a shout, too high.
“Like the man said, stowing it.” Clark brandished the empty drawer like he was going to hit Toby with it. “You got a problem?”
“I thought you were professionals,” Toby said, “if I’d known you were this stupid, I’d have got some real men in to do the job.”
“Watch it.” Eddie growled. “You’re not all the way on the inside yet.”
“Some of these pieces are thousands of years old. It’s not like a snatch and grab,” Toby said. “You can’t chuck it around. Every little crack, every mark will reduce the resale value. The provenance on most of these pieces is what gets the highest prices and any deterioration in its quality from what’s so far been recorded makes it look like it’s hot.”
“You don’t think we can fence hot gear?” Marcus asked, taking a step towards him.
“Bottom line is it makes a difference to the zeroes we’ll get.” Toby pulled out the second drawer, “Look, like this.” He placed it carefully at the bottom of another of the crates. He pulled out the third drawer and gently put it on top of the second. “Profit preservation should be driving everything you do.”
"Profit preservation," Clark retorted, eyes narrowed. “Get you.”
But Eddie guffawed. “Profit preservation, now you’re talking my language. Watch it with the gear.” He told Clark and Marcus then looked at Toby, “what next?”
Toby gestured at the double cupboard on the other side and pulled out one of the keyrings from his jacket pockets but as he slid a key into its lock, the room was plunged into darkness.
* * *
It was the fifth button that did it. The console wavered in front of Morgan. She gripped the desk, shook her head. She was getting dizzy, hyperventilating, she needed to calm down. Breath in, hold, one, two, three, four, breath out, one, two, three, four. Though she’d managed to turn the lights off, at least she wasn’t in pitch darkness. And, though red emergency lighting was a strange choice, it was bright enough she could read instructions.
“At least I could if there were any.”
She jabbed the fifth button on the console again. Nothing changed in any of the camera views, her red light didn’t switch back to white. “Why don’t you organise this better, Toby?” The sixth button didn’t seem to do anything either. “You spend so long here.” The seventh–
“Welcome to the museum!”
The cheery blast made her jump so hard, she yelped.
“Bienvenue au musée!”
Morgan slammed the seventh button again and “Wilkommen” was strangled off.
She glanced at the cameras as she jabbed other buttons. The up and over door at the rear entrance was silently gliding upwards. Oh no, she didn’t want to let anyone else in.
Jab, jab, jab. The door shuddered, glided back towards the floor. All the other buttons were fair game now. Morgan pressed everything that could be pressed like she was playing some kind of mad piano finale. The door stopped about a foot from the floor.
The lights snapped back on. Finally, but how was that going to help her?
* * *
“What the—” Eddie growled when the lights went out.
After the bright beams under which the restorers and researchers worked, it felt to Toby as if he’d been struck blind.
“It’s okay,” he said, placating, saying everything he could think of so that Eddie’s gun stayed in Eddie’s holster. “It’s an old building.”
“Kind of coincidental,” Clark, ever suspicious, “don’t you think?”
“Happens all the time,” Toby lied, “all the money goes on the things in this room, the tech’s old, cantankerous.”
“Like you, Clark.” Marcus guffawed. “Regular ray of sunshine.”
“Welcome to the museum!” The pre-recorded woman’s voice sang out.
What was going on? That couldn’t just play on its own. How could someone be in the security hub? Toby had cleared the premises, he couldn’t have witnesses to this, he didn’t want anyone to be in Eddie’s literal firing line.
“You’d better not be playing something.” Eddie said.
“Bienvenue au musée!” The singsong voices were all wrong in the sharpening tension in the room.
“Like what?” Toby challenged him. “I need to go reset the system.”
“Everyone stays here.” Eddie said.
“Look,” Toby tried to reason with him, plucking excuses out of his imagination. “If it moves on to the door locks, we could have random passers by popping in thinking there’s a night event on, witnesses we could do without. It won’t take me long to sort it out.”
As though arguing with him, the lights turned back on, making them all blink away the sudden brightness.
“S’alright now.” Marcus said.
“Except if it happens again, it’ll look like a disco going on in here from outside and someone will definitely call the police.”
“Fine, go do what you have to do.” Eddie pointed at Clark with the gun. The sight of it in his hand made Toby’s stomach tighten. “You go with him.”
“Isn’t your time better spent loading the artefacts?” Toby asked. “We could already be on borrowed time.”
“You’re very lippy for the new boy.” Eddie said.
“I’ve got nothing to hide. He can come if he wants.” Toby made for the door, his shoulders tightened to snapping point, his legs a little wobbly as he passed Eddie.
“I’d rather line my pockets.” Clark said.
“Yeah, I’d rather you did too.” Eddie agreed, he looked at Toby. “I’m coming after you if you’re longer than five minutes.”
“Ten for a full reset.” Toby said as he left the room and hurried down the corridor.
The security office was as he’d left it what felt like years ago apart from the figure hunched over the control consoles who looked up with real fear on her face when he barged in.
“Baby, what’re you doing here?” He crossed the room and pulled Morgan to him. He could feel her fast breathing, her heart racing.
“You’re okay! I was so scared, there are robbers in the museum, I saw them, I thought they’d taken you prisoner, hurt you.” She ran her fingers over his face, as though she was making sure it really was him.
He kissed her lightly. “I’m fine, I’m okay. Where are these robbers?”
“I saw them in a corridor, they were pushing crates.”
“Maybe you saw the maintenance men.”
“Do they wear balaclavas?”
She really had seen them. How could he handle this?
“We have to call the police,” she reached for the landline handset, “I tried but they’ve cut the phones.”
He took her hand and held it. “No one’s cut the phones, you just have to dial to get an outside line.” His thoughts tumbled over each other, he had to keep her safe, away from anywhere Eddie’s bullets could reach. “Look, I’ll go and investigate.” Safest thing was to let her leave but he couldn’t do that because she’d get a phone signal outside and she’d call it in and ruin everything. “I need you to be safe, you just come and take a seat in here.”
He led her to the admin office behind his desk.
“I want to come with you.” She stopped in the doorway, now wasn’t the time for her to be stubborn. He needed to keep her safe.
“I’ll be right back, you just sit there and—”
“Let you walk into the danger on your own? No way.”
Toby checked his watch, he’d already been gone more than five minutes. He couldn’t have anyone come looking for him and finding Morgan.
“Okay, give me one second.” He checked the console settings faster than he ever had and reset what Morgan had undone. “Right, let’s go.”
“Don’t you have a weapon or a. . . something?”
“They don’t arm us.”
“But shouldn’t you at least call the police?”
“And tell them what? We’ll investigate so we know what we’re calling in, otherwise they won’t take us seriously.”
She nodded. “Good point.”
“And I know where we can get something we can use to protect ourselves.”
She squeezed his hand. “Let’s do this.”
* * *
Just before where Morgan had seen the robbers in the corridor, Toby pulled her to a halt.
“What’s the matter?” She whispered.
He nodded at the door beside them and brought out a keyring with a red fob on it. He riffled through the keys and unlocked and opened the door. He flicked the light on and gestured for her to go in ahead of him.
“We’ll find something useful in here.”
She edged her way in, backing up to the stacks of boxes and packing cases to give him enough room to fit in too. The click of the lock took a few seconds for her to understand, even as she whipped round, knocking her elbow on a box, realising the space behind her was empty and the door was closed.
Rubbing her elbow, she tried the handle even though she knew it wouldn’t move. He’d actually locked her in? Toby had locked her in? What was he doing? She wasn’t a dainty flower that needed him to protect her, though it was kind of cute that he thought like that.
The door was solid, no way out through that unless she had the key. And she could hardly bang on the door, demanding to be let out.
* * *
Toby put the keys back in his pocket, winced as he heard Morgan trying the door handle. Things were spiralling fast and now she was going to be mad as all hell when he let her out, once it was safe.
In case anyone was watching him return, he cut through the Egyptian Hall to get back to the research area from the opposite direction, far away from her. He pulled up short. What was that? He pulled his torch out to be sure but the beam confirmed what he thought he’d seen: the red and white check of their picnic blanket spread out on the tiled floor on which was a small wicker hamper and an assortment of treats. Chocolates, strawberries, he’d take bets that was his favourite quiche, dips, the sourdough bread he loved.
Morgan. He shook his head even as his heart soared. She was amazing. He hoped it’d take more than locking her in a cupboard to dent what they had. He’d never known anyone like her. He knew she was attracted to his bad boy persona and he’d hammed it up when they first met, almost like a dare, trying to put her off from asking for his number, because there was no way she’d be comfortable with this side of him, with the things he had to do. But he hadn’t known how stubborn she was then. How thankfully stubborn.
But if anyone saw her gesture, they’d know someone else was in the museum. And he couldn’t have that, he wouldn’t risk her for anything. He had no choice but to grab up the treats and throw them in the hamper. The dark green bottle with the gold label was heavy in his hand. Champagne, then he smiled. Non-alcoholic, because he was working. She was so thoughtful. He put it carefully in the hamper and tucked the blanket on top, ignoring the accusations each thing replaced threw at him.
“Keeping her safe,” he told himself as he pushed the hamper against the wall, as he ran through the Exhibit Hall and back into the researchers’ area. Keeping her safe.
* * *
The floor beneath Morgan was cold, she’d dressed for sitting on a warm picnic blanket not on the hard ceramic tiles. She got to her feet and smoothed her skirt down, whacking her elbow this time so hard it made her yelp, made her eyes run.
“So not funny.” She rubbed it. It shouldn’t be called the humerus; it should be called—
The door rattled in its frame.
“Toby?” She put her head up against it to listen, pulled away quickly when she realised if he was opening it, it wouldn’t just be her elbow that hurt.
“Who’s in there?” A man’s voice asked.
“Does it matter, we’re on the home stretch.” Her heart crash landed as she understood the words Toby was saying. “Let’s get you and the gear out of here.”
“I decide what matters. Open it.”
The jingle of keys wasn’t as hopeful a sound as Morgan had thought it would be all while she’d waited for Toby. The door opened and there he was, standing next to a middle-aged man with black hair that looked as if he’d slicked it back with shoe polish. He scowled at her, at Toby.
“You know her?”
Toby shook his head. “Maybe one of the cleaners. Lock her back in and let’s catch the others up.”
“See, that’s a problem.” The man said. “She’s seen us.”
“She’s seen nothing.”
“You let my boyfriend and me go.” Morgan said. “I’ve called the police. We can tell them you co-operated.”
“You and your boyfriend?” The man looked from her to Toby, then a slow grin split his face. “You’ve watched too much TV, darling. I know there’s no signal in here. And your boyfriend is hardly likely to turn himself in now, is he?” He looked at Toby. “Still have that problem, she’s seen my face.”
“But as she’s my girl, she won’t say anything. I can guarantee it.”
Morgan stared at him, at his lips as if that might help the words coming out of it make sense. He knew this man, he knew about the robbery, he was helping this man rob the place? Each thought screamed louder and louder in her head while her heart shattered into tiny pieces. She pulled in a breath that was more of a sob than anything else and hardened her voice.
“If you’re my ex, how can I be your girl?”
Toby looked as if she’d hit him. His mouth opened, closed, nothing coming out of it now. He darted away from the man. Now it was her turn to feel poleaxed by shock. He’d left her there with this, this. . .
The man laughed. “You’ve either hurt his feelings or he’s decided the gold we’re taking is worth more to him. I know which one I’d put money on. Broads come and go, easy. This kind of deal,” he wafted a hand around their surroundings, “it’s a real one off. And your ex-boyfriend really came through. Didn’t think he had it in him, but there we are.” He reached into his jacket and when his hand came out, he was holding a gun.
Morgan’s gaze swung to it as though it had hypnotised her. It couldn’t be real, people in Britain didn’t have guns. It had to be a fake so people would do what he wanted.
He held it up in front of her, “but now see here, darling, we have a real problem. If you’re not linked to him, it’s lights out for you. Such a shame, you’re not a bad looker but loyalty’s loyalty and I don’t know about you, where yours lies now.”
He stepped backwards and raised his arm up, up, up. Her world had shrunk to the barrel of the gun.
A deadened thwack jerked her gaze up away from it. The man dropped to the floor. The gun clattered beside him. Toby put the champagne bottle from her picnic down beside the wall.
“Put the weapon down!”
“Get down on the ground now!”
Shouts came from all directions; intense beams of light criss-crossed the space.
“Do as they say.” Toby told her, getting to his knees, lying down with his hands out in front of him.
Morgan copied though she couldn’t spread her arms in the tight confines of the cupboard, and she wasn’t going to spread her legs, even if she could, in her short skirt. This wasn’t at all how she thought tonight was going to play out. She’d thought she’d have a fiancé, but she had an ex who would be going to jail. She shut her eyes against the ‘how could I have been so stupid, so blind, so trusting’. And she shut up the ‘but I love him’ that was trying to make itself heard.
“Armed police,” the shout came from right in front of her. “Get up slowly and come out of the cupboard. Keep your hands where I can see them.”
Morgan got to her knees, to her feet and walked into the corridor. No sign of Toby, probably already on his way to the cells.
“I didn’t have anything to do with this.” She said in a panic to the officer who snapped handcuffs on her.
He gestured for her to walk down the corridor ahead of him. “I’ve got you covered with an automatic rifle; I suggest you just do as I say. I have a light trigger finger.”
Morgan walked past a number of uniformed officers and at least two people covered from head to toe in white coveralls hefting large flight cases. The corridor opened into the loading area she’d seen on the camera in Toby’s office. The door was fully open and she could see two white vans in the car park, their strobing blue lights highlighting more officers and white-overalled people out there.
A man in a navy suit that looked like he’d slept in it approached her.
“I didn’t have anything to do with this.” She told him but he just mimed to her to hold out her cuffed wrists.
She whipped round to see Toby behind her.
“Cleaning equipment?” The man raised an eyebrow.
Toby shrugged. “I had to improvise.”
“You need lessons, mate.”
“Didn’t work out so bad.”
The man in the suit handed him something. “It did not, worth all that time hiding in the car park. Good job.”
“Cheers.” Toby unlocked her cuffs, all while he held her gaze with those gorgeous brown eyes.
He broke the look to turn to the man. “All locked up?”
The man nodded. “They’d better get used to it.”
Toby handed the cuffs to the man then held his wrists out for the man to snap them on him.
A tall man with a receding hairline slapped Toby on the back. “Good job, banged to rights I think is the phrase. And thanks to him threatening you,” he nodded at Morgan, “Eddie Morales will be facing more serious charges as well. We won’t be seeing them on the streets for a long time.”
“Thank you, sir,” Toby said. “I’ll go in the van with them to the station.” He glanced at Morgan, back at the man, “keep my cover intact.”
“We’ll debrief in the morning.” He nodded at Toby and Morgan and strode into the museum.
Morgan looked at Toby. “Cover?”
He nodded. “I’m sorry I couldn’t tell you. I hated keeping secrets from you, but I’ve been deep undercover for almost a year trying to catch this gang.”
“You’re not a museum security guard?”
He shook his head. “Detective Sergeant actually, not quite the bad boy you wanted.” His face saddened. “Sorry about your picnic, about this evening, it would have been lovely. As it is, I’ve got a date with the custody suite. I’ll be seeing you.”
He shuffled over towards the open loading door. Morgan followed. “You’ll be seeing me?”
“I don’t know what else to say as you dumped me.”
“Can we chalk this evening up to I think I’ve had my fill of bad boys, that I’d quite like to date a lawman.”
“You make me sound like a gunslinger.”
“Champagne swinger, at least.”
He smiled. “In that case, I propose we try again, tomorrow, at a fancy restaurant or at home with a picnic and I promise to only use the champagne for the purpose for which it’s intended.”
That wasn’t quite the proposal she’d had in mind when she’d planned this evening and now their romantic dinner would be happening on March 1st. But who decided that women only got to do the asking on one day every four years? Turned out she and Toby were both pretty good at breaking the rules.
She nodded. “I’d like that.”
Toby lifted his wrists, “maybe without the handcuffs."
“Or maybe,” she grinned at him, “we could keep those.”
He laughed. “I’m forgiven?”
She stood up on tiptoe to kiss him. “Like tonight never happened. In fact, I propose we pretend tomorrow is February 29th.”
Vote now - https://forms.gle/v1VQRhJ3UMb6tfZx9
Sign up for my Newsletter and you'll get access to exclusive deals, special offers, and be the first to know about new releases. As a gift, you’ll receive a copy of my exclusive, not available anywhere else novel Operation Snowdrop. Just click on Register to get your free book!