Edwina was standing in line at the bank when it hit her. The men who’d made the money for all this expensive marble décor hadn’t let anything like scruples hold them back. And they didn’t have a resident brownie. It was time she lived like she deserved.
She drove straight home, and as soon as she opened the door to her apartment, she yelled, “Helmut! I thought of the most marvelous thing today.”
A diminutive brown man appeared, holding a cappuccino with a perfect leaf outlined in the foam.
“Oh, put that down. We have more important matters to discuss.”
He set the bone china cup gently on the coffee table. “How may I be of service?”
“We’re going to rob a bank, Helmut. Isn’t that exciting?” Edwina held out a perfectly manicured hand.
Helmut looked at the ground. “No?”
“Stop that. The men who run these things steal money all the time—they just do it with lawyers. We’re going to cut out the middleman. I know you can do it.” Her Helmut could bewitch the senses and walk unseen when he wished. And no lock could keep him out.
Helmut sighed. “Edwina, that would be wrong. Your mother would be terribly disappointed.”
“My mother died poor, Helmut. I went to college, worked my butt off to pay my student loans, and I’m still on the outside looking in. I want to be one of the people who don’t care what the meal costs when they order.”
“It’s wrong to steal—especially to live a life of luxury.”
“Well, we can think of something nice to do for the bankers once we’ve got their lovely loot. Maybe we’ll put it back in their bank.”
“Then why steal it at all?”
Edwina smiled. “Because it’ll be in my account.”
She threw herself into preparations. Edwina went to the bank every day, familiarizing herself with the routine. She followed two tellers to their favorite coffee house on their lunch break and spent an instructive half-hour taking notes while they complained about all the steps it took to close out for the day.
So she couldn’t go too soon after closing. The dead of night was a far more suitable time for bank robbery anyway. Not that LA ever really shut down, but still.
She bought an old pair of license plates for the van she’d rent and paid for replacement registration stickers at the DMV, telling them the old ones had been lost. She mapped out escape routes and bought a safe to stash her new money in until she could be seen with it. She dropped hints at work about an elderly relative dying back in Sweden, who might be leaving her an impressive inheritance.
Helmut brought a worried frown and dire warnings along with her cappuccinos, but she ignored him. She would only ask him to help her steal this once. Then they could retire to a life of ease. He wouldn’t even have to cook anymore—she’d eat every meal out. He’d be grateful once it was all over.
The night came, and Edwina smiled as she donned her black sweater and slacks. Her life was finally coming together.
“Please, Edwina, I beg you to stop this. Nothing good will come of it.” Both Helmut’s eyes and voice were pleading, which always got on her nerves.
“Nonsense. I refuse to acknowledge your nineteenth-century morality. Women don’t wear corsets anymore, either.”
“It’s not just a matter of right and wrong. If we go tonight, I’m afraid you’ll be caught. Do you want to go to jail?”
“Of course not. That’s why you’re going to work your little hocus-pocus act to keep the cameras from seeing us.”
Helmut sighed. “Is there nothing I can say to dissuade you?”
“Nothing at all. I told you, I’m finally going to live like I deserve.”
“That’s what I’m afraid of.”
Edwina picked up the keys to the rented van and gestured to the front door. “No more objections. It’s time.”
Helmut trudged ahead of her, still muttering.
“I don’t care what you promised my mother,” Edwina snapped when they reached the van. “Get in.”
Edwina was thoroughly on edge by the time they reached the bank. Helmut’s nattering was making her nervous—that was all. There was no reason they would get caught. Helmut should know that. He’d told her plenty of stories about all the doors he’d unlocked and prisoners he’d freed back in the free-wheeling days of the gold rush. Well, her own lucky strike would come tonight.
She smiled at the painting of the coach and galloping horses on the bank’s walls. How appropriate. It should give Helmut a lovely nostalgic glow. “The vault is behind that door,” she said, pointing.
“Edwina, please. Let me lock everything back up, and no harm done.”
Edwina stomped over to the connecting door. “Now, Helmut.”
He gave her a long, sad look, but he put his hand to the door. Like the outer one, it opened as easily as if it had never been locked.
Edwina stepped through—right into the arms of the policemen on the other side.
“That’ll be all now, miss. You’ve got some explaining to do down at the station.”
Edwina looked around wildly for Helmut, but he was nowhere to be found. Her tears and pleas were of no avail, and she was shortly ensconced in the back of the waiting black-and-white.
A person no taller than Helmut closed the connecting door, automatically locking it as he did. “Well, it’s done.”
Helmut nodded. “I promised her mother I wouldn’t let her go to the bad.”
“What will you do now? Your charge is likely to be locked up for several years.”
A rare grin lit Helmut’s face. “I’ve lived in California for the last century and a half. I think it’s time I finally learn to surf.”
But first he’d figure out how to get into the jail. Edwina counted on him for her morning cappuccino.