Another day, another chapter from Mark Finn, as he continues to deliver entries from the Clockwork Storybook 30 Day Writing Challenge.

If this is your first time reading this book, you can find previous chapters here:

One in a Million – Chapter 14

The Players on the Other Side

The Tech Warehouse van was parked on the other side of the street from Larry’s ramshackle apartment. Inside, it was cramped, stuffy, and lined with borrowed or outright stolen technology. The heavy smell of Vietnamese cooking saturated the air, and the cracked windows did nothing to alleviate the boiled cabbage smell. Stevie Fleckner sat on an overturned plastic milk crate, miserable, as Jerry and Phong talked.

“So, how will robbing the comic book store hurt this guy?” Phong gestured out the window with his spring roll.

Jerry gritted his teeth. “Phong, man, you’re not getting it. It’s guilt by association. This guy…”

“Your enemy.”

“Right! My enemy,” Jerry smiled, “is friends with D.J.”

“Who works at the comic store.”


Phong frowned. “What about the other two?”

“One of them is Steve’s enemy.”

Phong turned in his chair to look at Stevie. “He made you shit your pants, too?”

Jerry started. “No, it wasn’t ‘shit my pants,’ and…well, never mind that.”

Stevie said, “He took my girl.”

Phong nodded. “Love trouble. The worst kind. Makes a man mean.”

“Hey, do you want anything?” Jerry rattled the bag. “Phong’s treat?”

“House of Nguyen specials, left over from last night’s wedding,” said Phong.

“Yes, gimme the bag,” Stevie said. Spring rolls were hollow succor, but given the plan he just listened to, he’d better enjoy every moment of life between now and then, because his days of freedom were numbered. With a mouthful of spring roll, he said to Jerry, “I have no confidence in this plan.”

“Me, either,” said Phong. “This is no Ocean’s Eleven.”

“And you’re no Chinese acrobat, either, but that’s beside the point,” said Jerry. “This will work. It’s simple.”

“I disagree with that assessment,” said Stevie, but just then, Jerry waved him quiet.

“Open the door, he’s coming!” Jerry hissed.

Stevie kicked open the van door and a panting and disheveled Sebastian tumbled in. He was the kind of guy Stevie was never comfortable around—he was skinny, good-looking, borderline charming, and knew things about sports. His gaming habit brought him into contact with other geeks, and as a result, he knew their lingo, got all of their references, but he was not one of them. He was a young wolf in old sheep’s clothing. If Jerry felt that way, he never said so. But Stevie had to admit there were things Sebastian could do that no one else he knew could—like breaking and entering, hot-wiring, and other illegal electrical activities.

“Is it set?” asked Jerry.

Sebastian grinned. “Oh, and then some.” He pulled his hoodie off and grabbed the food bag from Stevie, who simply let it happen. “I’ve got a mic on Larry’s window, and it’ll activate whenever there’s noise.”

“Bedroom window?” asked Jerry.

“Nah, he’s got a sliding door that goes into the living room, where his gaming table is. I figure that’s where he spends most of his time.”

“You’re right about that,” said Jerry. “Good, okay, now we’ll know if there’s any change in their schedule.”

“But that’s not all,” said Sebastian. “While I was poking around back there, I noticed the cable box was open, so I did a very illegal, very obvious patch job, so that now Larry has free cable he isn’t paying for, and,” he paused for effect, “I dropped the wire cutters off onto his terrace.”

“So, now he steals cable,” said Phong.

“Damnstraight,” said Sebastian, rooting through the bag of food. “Dumplings! Hah!”

“That’s pretty good thinking, Seb,” said Jerry. “It’s more evidence against him once we set up the frame.”

“Okay,” said Stevie, “that’s what I’m worried about. The frame. How is that going to work?”
“Haven’t you ever seen A Fish Called Wanda?” asked Jerry.

“Of course, but I don’t remember it all, except for the stuttering scene.”

“Dude, there were four of them,” said Sebastian.

“Just walk me through it, please,” said Stevie. “I’m having second thoughts.”

Jerry started to talk, but Sebastian cut him off. “What’s to know? Look, it’s real simple: I’ve been through that store three or four times now. There’s no cameras, no alarm pads.
It’s just a single lock on the door. So, on the day of the signing, he hide out in the store, until it closes. Then we loot the place, starting with the old comics and ending with the cash. I take the spare key that’s hanging on the nail beside the office door, we let ourselves out, and then we use a cinder block to smash the door in.”

“Why do that, though?” asked Stevie. “If you’re trying to make it look like an inside job, then wouldn’t they just use a key?”

“Think, man,” said Jerry. “If you were going to rob your own store, would you want it to look like an inside job, or a random burglary?”

At last, Stevie’s face lit up. “Oh, I get it!”

“Yes,” said Sebastian, “and then we take pieces of the cinder block and the glass, and we put them outside of Larry’s apartment.”

“We should slip a couple of the less expensive comics into his van, too,” said Jerry.

“Nice,” Sebastian said, grinning.

“And then what?” asked Phong.

“And then,” said Sebastian, “it’ll take the cops all of about ten minutes to question the employess. D.J. will immediately be suspected.”

Jerry added, “And an anonymous tip to the police will put Larry’s van outside the comic shop.” He sighed. “After that, it’ll all fall like dominos.”

“Yes,” said Phong. “Dominos.”

Jerry smiled, thin and hard. “We’ll move the comics in another part of the country. They’ll never trace it to us. And even if the four of them don’t go to jail, the scandal of getting arrested will be enough to maybe cost D.J. his job, or Burt could lose his scholarship…”

“And Linda,” said Stevie.

“And I won’t be the embarrassment of the community anymore. Larry will. With him banned from MagicCon, and now arrested, with a criminal record, he’ll be persona non grata in the Bay Area. I can get the gang back together again. It’ll be just like it was before. Only better.” Jerry started the van. “Yes, sir, it’s a brand new day for Jerry Markham.”


About Author

Mark Finn is an award-winning author, playwright and essayist who is active in Robert E Howard studies. His biography, Blood & Thunder: the Life and Art of Robert E Howard was nominated for a World Fantasy award, and will be re-released in an updated second printing later this month. His comic books SCOUTS! Premeires in March from Ape Entertainment.


  1. The Great NateO on

    Ok all caught up now, why do I have a feeling that when they break in to the store something crazy will be going on? Mark your writing is so simple yet with massive depth, you have an amazing gift.

  2. Well, like any good caper story, there’s always the complications that no one could foresee. Whether or not the caper is funny or tragic depends on the tone of the story and the capability of the thieves in question. By the way, the master of caper fiction, comic and otherwise, is Donald Westlake. He’s one of my favorite crime writers of all time. These three books are, in a way, an homage to him and his various series and novels.

    And thanks for the compliment. I’m really glad you are liking the story.

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