Chapter Twenty-Four

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They parked the van outside Cindy VanHuett's apartment building at dawn on Thursday.

Even though the vehicle was already ominous, what with the black paint and the darkened windows and all, they tricked it out even more. Asprey screwed mesh-type bars over the back window, and Poppy installed a giant antenna to the top that looked like it might be able to reach the moon, had it not been superglued on.

Poppy was responsible for putting the vehicle in place and plunking in enough quarters to keep it there all day. One of the guards posted by Winston, a flat-faced man with the widest shoulders she'd ever seen on a human being, noticed her and reached for his hip—for a Taser or a gun or a walkie-talkie, she'd never know, since Asprey pulled his motorcycle up just then. She hopped on, her helmet already in place to serve as a face mask to avoid recognition.

The deliveries started around eight. Asprey had asked Tiffany to make untraceable calls to virtually every delivery company in the greater Seattle area, placing orders almost at random. Cookie bouquets, flowers, pajamagrams, a singing clown, no fewer than ten sandwich-shop orders, over a dozen pizzas, and even the stripper from Bouncing Booty had been bought and paid for. Together, they created a steady stream of various uniformed professionals moving through the building doors. Not even Poppy—who had the master list of their times on a spreadsheet in front of her—could keep track of who was coming and going.

The scaffolding was set to go up around ten. They'd opted to hire the job out to a professional window-washing company, using layers of Tiffany's encryption to make the arrangements without being tracked. Because of Asprey's continued insistence that she be seen as little as possible, Poppy was only able to catch a glimpse of the huge wood and metal structure going up along the backside of the apartment building as she and Tiffany drove by in her car. At least they also had the fortune of seeing the other guard, a smaller man with a pointy goatee, arguing with the workers putting it up.

The power started cutting out around noon. Tiffany had the power grid for the entire block set on a random and automatic rotation so that the guards couldn't predict when or how the building would go dark. Five minutes here, thirty seconds there—but never on the elevator, which Poppy had insisted would continue running no matter what.

"I don't want people getting trapped in there," she'd said. "I'm not budging on that issue."

Asprey had his own issues he refused to budge on.

"That is not a cliché. Name one heist movie that includes ninjas," Poppy had protested when he pulled out the costumes, black harem pants and face masks that left a slit for the eyes.

"The iconic ninja," he'd retorted, his eyes sparkling, "invokes fear like no other symbol. You of all people should know that."

Fear was not the emotion she saw reflected in his eyes at that moment. "You're just putting them in there to get a rise out of me."

He'd stood up and straightened his vest. "Is it working?"

Yes. But she wasn't about to say so. "I'll let you know. So what are Tiffany and I supposed to do exactly—run around the park in ninja costumes? What if someone asks us what we're doing?"

"If that someone is a little old lady with a cane, tell her you're rehearsing for a play. If it's one of Winston's security guards, run like hell."

Poppy grabbed the costumes from him forcefully. The whole plan was ridiculous and juvenile and so much like him she had a hard time keeping a straight face.

Asprey stopped her before she turned away. "We don't have to do this," he said. "If you want to stop right now, Tiffany and I can manage. This isn't your problem, and you shouldn't put yourself at risk for us."

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