...And other conversations
Please note that this story contains some swearing.
It’s not cats Yancy and Nina are after.
Hobart’s infamous fog, the Bridgewater Jerry, was thick and perfectly on time, rolling down the Derwent like a woollen blanket and misting visibility to worse than nothing. At least in the dark you didn’t see shapes moving. Yancy drummed his fingers on the steering wheel of the tug, and the fog ate the sound. The muted crackle of the two-way popped and spluttered like effervescence in a glass of beer before resolving into a voice.
“Tawasa, you there?”
“Course. Right in position, waitin’ for the payload to shut up and get on with it.”
“Up yours, Yancy.”
“Love ya too, kiddo.”
The mist drew back momentarily, revealing the looming mass of the Museum of Old and New Art, clinging limpet-like to the mist-slicked cliffside. A metallic sculpture, abstract and grey like the enshrouding Jerry, glinted briefly like a demonic eye as it reflected their port light before it was swallowed once again. The sullen water of the Derwent lapped at the side of the boat.
“Drilling now. Better cover up those delicate ears of yours, old man.” The tug jolted, sending his morning coffee slopping down the sides of his teddy-bear mug, then settled with barely any fuss as the sub detached. Yancy carefully wiped down the cup, calloused fingers running gently over the faded letters. World’s Best Dad. Patently untrue and total sentimental drivel, but with Nina several meters below in the murky river he let a small smile tug at the corners of his mouth anyway. Well, he could try not to be the world’s worst dad, at least. He could help her out with this. Despite Nina’s words, all he knew of the drilling was the occasional burst of bubbles in the water lapping at the boat’s sides.
He’d cracked open a packet of Tim Tams and was onto his third biccie when the radio muttered back to life.
“I’m in. God this room smells worse than that derelict hulk you’re riding in before you fixed that fuel leak.”
“And fixed it good. You must be in...” Yancy squinted at the coffee stained brochure in front of him. He flapped it half-heartedly, not that it would make it any drier. The amount of moisture hanging in the air might just make it worse. Water beaded and pearled on every surface of the boat and on his bald head, running into his eyes when he moved.
He gave up trying to read the map and relied on memory instead. “That room with the big swimming pool of diesel.”
“Reeks like I just snorted someone’s exhaust pipe.”
“Up the stairs. And mind Walshy’s automata guards.” The rattling sound of feet hammering up metal stairs cut off.
“You fuckin’ what mate?!” Nina squawked, the two-way turning her into a loud-mouthed parrot with poor reception. Yancy leaned over the edge as he responded, hearing something bump against the hull.
“Just kiddin’. For a fancy-pants uni brat, you sure ain’t all that bright.”
It was a kid’s discarded water pistol, lurid fluro colours bright even in the mist. He returned to his seat as Nina grumbled a response and her footsteps resumed.
“Wouldn’t put something like that past Walshy. And shut up about my intelligence, mister ‘I’ve got more tats than teeth’.” Yancy scowled and pushed the tip of his tongue through one of the gaps in his front teeth.
“I got more tats than you got teeth, smart-arse. Grab them and get out.”
“Just like Trump,” came the muttered reply, and he snorted coffee through his nose. Shit, he hoped the radio still worked covered in caffeine.
“Got ‘em. Coming back now.”
Torturous minutes passed as the Jerry began to peel away and burn off in the morning sun. Yancy squinted and slipped on a pair of sunnies as the boat rocked again. Nina was back.
“Hold on tight, kid.” He flipped the throttle wide and the engine roared its power into the chill morning air. It would have been nice to leave an impressive wake as they streaked away, but the only streaking thing about the boat was the garish yellow paint job. Instead, they wallowed through the river like a three-legged cow on some hard drugs.
Behind them, still partly muffled by the dissipating mist, alarms blared. He thumbed the radio back on.
“Wigwam away, miss smarty-pants.”
He had nearly unplugged it when the two-way crackled back to life. The boat jolted and yawed, and he nearly missed Nina’s words as he stumbled into the wheel and barked his shin hard against the console.
“Thanks, dad.” The channel went dead, and he hurled the entire radio into the Derwent. He let the tug meander across the river, heading roughly in the direction of home but with no real intent. Between his looks, his record and the lumbering bulk of the tug, he was too tempting a target. And while they wasted time with him, the sub could slip away unnoticed in the murk.
It took the police a good half an hour to get their arses into gear and out onto the water, and when they did Yancy gunned the engine once again to make a show of running like he’d stolen something. Or at least, as close as his piece of junk boat could manage to a run.
The next day, killing time in the familiar dinginess of the holding cell, he managed to snaffle a copy of The Mercury and grinned at the headline.
“Artwork stolen from the Museum of Old and New Art: genuine or a stunt?.”
A lot of fancy sounding words to make the subject sound polite and palatable, but the big picture on the front was worth at least a couple of thousand words. A black wall with small hooks spaced along it where something had once hung, and numerous crudely-drawn dicks spray-painted along its length. It sounded like the museum might do well for a while off the controversy and furore, but sooner or later Walshy would want his exhibit returned.
Yancy didn’t know how the newspapers would dress it up, but while he waited for the police to determine that he had not, in fact, stolen anything he amused himself imagining the bold headline:
“Plaster pussies ransomed for millions.”
This story was written for Round 1 of the NYCMidnight Flash Fiction Competition in 2018. It placed 6th in my heat. For those of you who don’t know about the competition, you have 48 hours to write a 1,000 word story in a given genre, in a set location and featuring (at least in passing) an assigned item. The prompts for this story were: Crime Caper as the genre, a tugboat as the location and a child’s water pistol as the object.