I liked to call it a game between us. It made what we were doing sound much lighter than it was. Because there was nothing light about the two of us hunting each other down for all eternity.
Still, there was something fun about it. Like an infinite game of cat and mouse. And although I liked to complain about it with a nice glass of rum when it had been a few years without a clue, I knew our “game” was the only thing keeping me here, the only thing that kept me from trying to off myself and causing significant pain to myself in the process.
So now, as I surveyed the open marble halls of the museum, my target in sight, I felt the familiar thrill creeping in. And so I knew, without even looking at it that it was her.
She had gotten careless or she’d never have left something as important as a journal behind for me to find. And sure, maybe by me I meant the historians but we both knew it would get to me eventually, knew they were just a stepping stone.
And sure enough, as I looked at its yellowed pages through the plexiglass, I could see it really was hers. After so long hunting her, the loopy text with its slight slant was as familiar as my own. As I’m sure mine was to her.
Now that I had confirmed that it really was hers, I could begin the process of procuring it. Sure, I could try to buy it but where’s the fun in that?
This was the reconnaissance visit, making sure I knew everything I needed to know to pull this off.
The first thing you want to look for is how the artifact is being protected. A guard? Security cameras? Any of the other more sophisticated security systems like motion detectors or laser shields?
The museum clearly didn’t think her journal was worth too much seeing as it had none of those fancy things. Just a single guard at the entrance to the room, with his back turned no less, and a camera mounted in a corner. Upon closer inspection, I could see even that was just a decoy, no wires attached.
All this was good for me because it meant this would be easy and quick. There had been times when I had had to stay at a place for years, work for whoever had it to gain their trust and only then been able to take it. Not a big deal for me, just a few extra years, but sometimes the clues hadn’t even been worth it. For something as important as this? I could definitely spare an afternoon.
But the museum’s carelessness infuriated me. How could they just leave it here, with virtually no protection? Sure, they didn’t know why it was so important but this was just neglect.
Nevermind, it would be out of their care soon enough.
Next was to see how the glass covering it was attached to the pedestal. This would take a bit more sneakiness.
Walking by as though I had no interest in this piece at all, and heading for the painting nearby, I “accidentally” dropped the brochure I had picked up at the entrance. It just so happened to slip under the pedestal. Perfect. This let me squat down and look under it. Screws at the bottom and hinges at the back. Easy.
The final step was to see when the museum would be least busy. Weekdays definitely, and probably during lunch time. This also had the added benefit of the guards changing shifts, them being a bit more lax, their senses being slightly dulled.
So Thursday at lunch time it would be.
When you’re immortal long enough, it becomes important to be able to change how you look in subtle, reversible ways. The invention of makeup had been a huge blessing for exactly this reason.
For this heist, I chose a college student. It would make perfect sense for me to have a pen and a backpack full of books and no one would question why I spent so long at just that exhibit.
I bought my entry ticket making sure I was friendly to the cashier. I also made sure I smiled and nodded at as many guards I saw. Almost all of them nodded back. This is an important step because no one will think you’re sketchy if you don’t act like it. Keep your head up, make sure you’re seen and no one will know why you’re really there. And if you’ve done your disguise right, they’ll just assume anyway.
The glasses and the messy bun thrown carelessly onto my head, the bag full of college textbooks, the casual t-shirt and jeans, were all carefully chosen. They set up a story. I was so busy with classes that I had to come at this time. I was using my lunch hour to further my interests so, if I walked out of here in a bit of a hurry, obviously I was just trying to get back in time for a class. It didn’t hurt that many of the guards would think of me as a child and suspect me even less.
It was helpful that the place only had one floor. And that the journal was in the very first room. I went in there and lost track of time. When I finally looked at my watch, I had about fifteen minutes to get back to class.
The guard this time was an older man. Meaning he probably moved slower and noisier. I made myself comfortable on the floor in front of the display, pulling out a notebook and my secret weapon, a pen I’d had special ordered a few years ago. It was when museums had first become a thing and I found myself having to do more and more heists to get closer to her. The top was a screwdriver.
Eventually the room was empty enough that I could drop my “college student using the exhibit as inspiration” act and use the pen for its intended purpose. Sticking the screwdriver where it was supposed to go, I kept looking at the display as I turned it. It looked like I was lost in thought. And then the screw fell right into my waiting hand.
A quick stretch and I was under the other screw. Similar movement and it fell out just as easily as its twin.
A look around and the other patrons were sufficiently distracted. The guard hadn’t even moved. I stood, lifting the case up with me and then, a fast hand movement and the journal was in my bag.
While leaving, I made sure to look right at the guard and say “I’m going to be so late” with a panicked expression.
I was almost a block away before I heard the alarm bells ring.
When I was safely in another country, I finally looked through the journal. It was obvious the museum hadn’t been a very good one. Even just a quick flip through could tell you that this journal clearly belonged to an immortal.
The transition from quill and ink to a ballpoint pen in the end, how the language changed from using ‘thee’ and ‘thou’ to some extremely recent slang-
Wait. Extremely recent slang? I checked the date on the last entry and it was barely a year old. That was nothing! And easily the closest I had ever come to her. A read of the entry and I knew exactly where she was. Or perhaps where she used to be? At the very least, I’d find more clues there. I was getting so close.
On the plane over, I allowed myself to get a little nostalgic. Our game had been fun while it lasted and I would miss it when it was over. I had been working towards this for centuries and now it was here. This was it.
But it was still fun to think about everything that had happened, what had led us here. All the heists and the clues, ones I had left on purpose, hoping that she would come to me, that she’d seen through, the various sidekicks whose help I had that were never as good as her.
Yes, I would definitely miss this.
Of course it was possible that I wouldn’t find her there and the hunt wasn’t over. But how far could she get in a few months? I’d get to her eventually.
A little voice in the back of my head did say that everything fit together too perfectly. But maybe the universe itself had grown tired of our chase and decided to end it.
Whatever happened, things would be over soon. And I couldn’t wait a second.
When I got there, I truly didn’t expect her to be there.
The last journal entry spoke of a cafe she liked the cheesecake from, and I knew she liked cheesecake. I honestly just expected to get there, maybe ask the barista if they knew where I could find her. And that was it.
But as soon as I pushed open the door, having one of those quaint bells that rang as one entered, I saw her right at the counter, being handed a whole, large, you guessed it, cheesecake. Her entire face had lit up at the sight of it.
She turned, still grinning at the confection in her hands and immediately her eyes found mine. She just smirked a bit and made her way towards me.
“I didn’t know if you would come, to be honest.”
Huh? I had hunted her down, what could she possibly mean?
She obviously noticed my confusion because she laughed and nodded at a table outside the cafe, shaded by a large umbrella stuck straight through the centre.
“I can’t possibly eat this whole thing myself, can I?”, she said, although I suspected that she could and had. Probably many times.
As we sat down and she took her first bite, she sighed and said, “I’m going to miss this when I have to leave.”
I let her enjoy a few bites before I asked her, “Did you know I was coming?”
She scoffed a bit and her face clearly said ‘obviously’.
“You didn’t really think I would leave my journal behind by accident did you?”
“And you clearly underestimate the humans if you think they’d let something like that go without a thorough investigation on why it’s so obviously old at the beginning and so obviously new at the end.”
And once again, I did.
“No honey, that was left there for you to find.”
So the little voice had been right. It had been too perfect.
“By the way, that little college student act was so cute. I almost believed you. But you haven’t been staying up to date on camera technology have you? You’re lucky I owned that place or you could be in trouble.”
So I had obviously overestimated my sneakiness…
“Why did you…?”
She didn’t even let me finish.
“I missed you.”
“Oh,” I said and I felt my cheeks heating up.
She had a few more bites of her cake as I processed that.
“So,” she said conversationally. “Has there been anyone else since we last…?”
Anyone else? Who had time for that? Not when I had her to find. And I told her as much.
She looked extremely satisfied at that, like a cat that had successfully stolen a goldfish without getting caught. “Good. Me neither.”
And I let out a breath I hadn’t known I was holding.
“Our plan worked then.”
Our plan. We had come up with it centuries ago. Yes I loved her and she loved me but we had millenia together. Had already had millenia together. So we decided to do this, to spice things up, keep things interesting. Keep us from getting bored of each other.
If we did this every few thousand years, we wouldn’t lose interest. We’d always have stories the other hadn’t heard yet. And, it would be fun.
I sat and thought back over the centuries apart. The search for her, anything even remotely connected to her. The rush when I got close. Each and every even slightly exciting incident after which I had thought, “She would love this story. I must remember to tell her when I catch her.” This game of ours had kept me alert all this time, kept me from getting used to life.
It is the shortness and uncertainty of life that makes it worth living and that was what this had done for us. We never knew where the other was going to be and it kept us on our toes. So while our lives certainly weren’t short, they had been made uncertain. We had made them more exciting.
And of course, it didn’t hurt that if we truly needed or wanted each other, we could find each other again, like she had now. We didn’t have to do this any longer than we wanted to.
So yes, our plan had worked very well.
“Ready to begin again?”, I asked her as an agreement to what she had said.
“Eventually. But let’s take a break from our centuries apart.”