~ NYC MIDNIGHT SHORT STORY CHALLENGE ~
— Criteria —
GENRE: Crime Caper
LOCATION: A Plastic Surgery Centre
OBJECT: A Hair Net
“How are the ‘twins’ doing, Jean?” Valerie asked her best friend, who had draped herself over the deckchair beside her. Valerie savoured the last sip of her (third) margarita as she watched a seagull drift across the cloudless sky, wings bobbing against the sea breeze like a marionette
“Put it this way: I won’t need a life ring if I fall overboard, not with these bad buoys!” Jean chortled, cupping her fake breasts through her bright red swimsuit.
The two women met at a support group for widows, five years earlier. Valerie, recently seventy and new in town, detested the idea of joining some tacky bingo night to make friends. Jean only recently discovered Valerie never married. Always open to the idea, she just couldn’t find a man capable of keeping up with her.
“Come now, ladies, do we have to be so vulgar about Jean’s…assets?” Sitting on the other side of Jean, Betty lowered her sunglasses and cast a disapproving frown at the giggling women. A devout Christian, Betty did not condone lewd behaviour. Today, however, not even Jesus himself could halt a rogue smile from careering up her cheeks. It was too much of a blessing to witness Jean, her good friend since schooldays, laugh and jest again (even if not to her taste). Over the past few years, adversity pursued Jean like a shadow; she deserved this welcome change.
“Aunt Betty, don’t think we can’t see your big grin!” Teased Simone, Jean’s granddaughter, dangling her long legs over the side of their vessel. She then turned to Jean, “Gran, I reckon if you got it, flaunt it!” Although only in her twenties, Simone adored spending time with her Gran and ‘aunts’.
“Fake teeth, fake hip, and now fake boobs—I’m a hat trick!” Shrieks of delight bellied out from the women, even Betty.
At seventy-five, Jean was living for the first time in her life. The universe had handed her a clean slate. She no longer existed as the full-time mother (her son was all grown up), or the doting wife, or the cancer victim. She was just, Jean. To celebrate the ‘emancipation of Jeanie’, as Valerie termed it, the four women set sail around the Mediterranean. They were to spend two glorious weeks lapping up the sun on board a private yacht, organised, and financed by the generous Valerie. Jean couldn’t begin to fathom how differently her life would have transpired, had she not met Valerie.
Not long after the two women grew close, Doctors diagnosed Jean with breast cancer. As she thrashed and spluttered through the churning swell of chemotherapy, Valerie stood by her, arms outreached, ready to pull her up for air. And when Jean lost both her breasts to a double mastectomy, Valerie helped her to feel whole again. Together, it seemed they could endure anything. Until Jean visited a plastic surgeon, Dr Roy, about breast reconstructive surgery.
“… Look, Jean, no one is going to see you topless, are they? You’re in your seventies now and, well, with your husband deceased. I’m just not sure what you are trying to achieve? And besides, I’m not used to such a worn-out canvas. I’m afraid I can’t help you…”
Jean was inconsolable. What was the point of defying death, if society already deemed her past her expiration date? She felt old and invisible.
Valerie wouldn’t rest until Jean’s self-worth was restored.
Four months earlier…
Betty and Simone sat perched at Valerie’s custom-made kitchen island, savouring their imported wine. She had called a clandestine meeting, and they were yet to discover why. While they waited, the women surveyed the interiors of Valerie’s renovated Victorian terrace, like a home plucked straight from a glossy magazine. From almost every wall, exquisite artworks gazed back at their surveyors, each piece possessing its own unique story.
“Ladies, I have summoned you here today because of someone most dear to us: Jeanie. I have a plan to make her smile again, while also getting back at that vile Dr Roy. But I need your help.” The women nodded, intrigued. Valerie glanced outside and watched as beads of spring rain skipped down the budding roses in her limestone courtyard. She cleared her throat and continued, “I visited the plastic surgery centre last week and have booked an end-of-day appointment with Dr Roy. By that time, most of his staff will have clocked off—the fewer eyes, the better, you see? Simone, the appointment is for you.”
“Yes. You’re considering getting your breasts done! I’ll join you for the appointment. Your job: distract Roy while I steal a set of implants. We’ll demand to examine every size and shape imaginable, so the man is swimming in silicone. That way, it won’t be obvious when two go missing. Now, Betty—”
Betty took a large gulp from her wine, eyes widening.
“I did some investigating—the receptionist owns a schnauzer named Rufus. While we’re inside, all you need to do is phone and tell her the dog has escaped. This will leave old boy Roy to close the clinic on his own. Also, Bets, do you still have access to the church minivan?”
Spluttering, Betty replied, “Why, y-yes? B-but I can’t be using the Lord’s vehicle for a criminal act!”
“It’s just a bit of fun, Bets. God will forgive you because it’s for a worthy cause.”
“But what is Gran going to do with a set of fake boobs, Aunty Val? We can’t exactly perform the reconstructive surgery on her ourselves.” Simone wanted desperately to help but Valerie’s proposal lacked an apparent motive.
“Excellent question, Simone! This leads me to part two of my plan. I’ve booked an appointment for Jeanie with a different plastic surgeon; a woman, with a most excellent reputation. But she’s going to need some encouragement to even set foot inside a plastic surgery again. I’m hoping the implants will act as an icebreaker, a mood lightener, before telling her about the new appointment, you see? Even if she decides not to go, we’ll hopefully, at least, have given her a good giggle. She’s usually the one cracking the jokes—wouldn’t it be nice to return the favour?” Valerie missed Jean’s goofy chortle.
“Couldn’t we just buy her a pair of those—what do the kids call them—er, turkey fillers? No, no that’s not right…chicken fillets!” Betty clung to hope of a sin-free alternative.
“It wouldn’t be the same, Bets. Dr Roy stole Jean’s confidence, so it’s about taking something from him in return!” Valerie decided it best not to disclose what else she planned on taking from Dr Roy. If anything went wrong, she didn’t want her friends implicated.
“I’m so in! Now, how big should I make my boobs?” Simone smirked, glancing down at her already ample bosom.
Betty sighed, “Fine, I’m in too.” If she had to break the seventh commandment for anyone, it would be for Jean. She made the sign of the cross.
“Let’s call it Operation Booby-Trap!” Simone quipped. The women chuckled and clinked their wine glasses.
“Now, let’s go over the plan again. It’s important we get this right.”
Valerie waited in the car park outside the plastic surgery clinic. Her wild, red-grey curls concealed beneath a steel-grey wig, and thick chemist spectacles clouding her clear blue eyes. Hidden in her handbag sat a taser and three hairnets. She had no intention of using either but melior tutius paenitet.
Simone arrived shortly after and almost didn’t recognise the usually glamourous woman. “Valerie Beauvoir! You nearly look your age, for once.”
“Good, that means I’ll be invisible to that disgusting doctor!” Valerie winked, gesturing towards the surgery.
Simone noticed an ice-box on wheels sitting next to Valerie. “What’s with the cooler?” She enquired.
“It’s my supper! I was hoping for more, but today was slim pickings at the fishmonger.” She pulled back the lid. Three silver fish, chilling on a generous mound of dewy ice, gleamed up at them.
Inside the surgery, Valerie’s plan unfolded without a hitch: the receptionist departed early in search of her ‘missing’ puppy, and a small village of silicone moped about on Dr Roy’s desk. Valerie sensed his patience thinning.
“And this one? Have we tried this one yet?” Valerie held an implant they had already inspected—twice—up towards Dr Roy, letting it slide from her fingers, which sent it flying across the room. The disk-like orb wobbled clumsily as it waged war against gravity, hurtling towards the doctor. Before he could duck, it slapped him across his left eye, losing impetus and slumping to the floor.
“Whoops, clumsy old me.” Valerie feigned concern.
Dr Roy’s face blazed scarlet. While he bent down to pick up his silicone assassin, Valerie slipped a pair of stowaway boobs into her large overcoat pocket. She then stood up from her chair and excused herself to use the bathroom.
Alone at last with the beautiful Simone, Dr Roy’s bleached-white teeth spread across his face like the sun’s glare as he devoured her with beady eyes.
“So, young lady. May I inquire as to how you plan to pay for all of this?” He prodded an implant.
“Um, I guess I’ll take out a loan.” Why was Valerie taking so long? A sliver of worry slipped through a small crack in Simone’s repose.
“Well, there are other ways we can cover the cost of your surgery, you know? I’m sure we could come to a mutually beneficial agreement?” Dr Roy’s words oozed out like warm pus. He leant across his mahogany desk, to stroke Simone’s hand. She jerked her arm away as Valerie re-entered the room, panting.
“Oh dear, I think I got a bit lost. All the doors look the same, you see?”
“Aunty, I was beginning to worry.”
“Doctor, we won’t keep you any longer. It’s getting late.” Valerie declared. Simone nodded.
“Yes, of course, ladies. Now, just remember Simone, you’re a nine right now but, with my help, you could be a ten! Let’s talk soon, okay?”
Valerie wanted to whack that sleazy man in his right eye. Instead, she forced a tight smile and asked, “Doctor, would you be so kind as to help me wheel my icebox to the lift? It’s just sitting out by reception.”
Irked by her request, Dr Roy acquiesced. While he wheeled the icebox to the lift, Simone wondered why an independent woman would request a man to do a job she was more than capable of doing herself. Dr Roy wondered why a helpless, old biddy carried around such a hefty cooler. He tried on some banter, “I hope you don’t have a dead body in here?”
“Three dead bodies, actually”, Valerie replied, deadpan, opening the top to reveal the fish. Simone could have sworn the ice now sat higher in the cooler than it did before, but she kept her thoughts to herself as they exited the building.
Dr Roy returned to his clinic and locked up with haste. Eager to get home to a stiff drink, he overlooked two small blocks of ice melting into the carpet in front of the medical-grade refrigerator.
The women coasted down the highway in their get-away van, angelic gospel hymns sighing out the tinny speakers. Valerie, riding in the front passenger seat, liberated her curls from under her wig. Chuckling, she plucked two silicone mementos from her pockets and waved them about triumphantly. Simone cheered from the back seat.
“Lot of trouble for something that mightn’t impress Jean all that much.” Grumbled Betty, brooding over the fact God must now regard her as an accessory to theft.
Betty’s brooding was cut short by the sound of sirens wailing behind them.
“Bets, you’re not speeding, are you?” Simone’s voice wavered.
“Of course not!” Betty carefully pulled the van over to the side of the road, clutching at the steering wheel, trying to steady her trembling hands.
Valerie lunged into her bag, pulled out the hairnets and thrust them at her companions. “Put these on. Quick! And let me do the talking!”
The women obeyed as a Policeman lumbered towards them. Valerie tucked the portable boobs back in her pocket as Betty wound down her window, heart galloping in her chest. The policeman peered in the van. Valerie leaned forwards and managed to seize the first word.
“Evening officer! Just on our way to the soup kitchen. We’re volunteers from the church. What seems to be the problem?”
“Good evening! Explains the, er, headwear,” The officer grinned.
“Cleanliness is next to godliness.” Valerie smiled back, patting her hairnet.
“Look, ladies, I’m not going to stand in the way of the good work you’re doing but, please, get your left brake light checked first thing tomorrow—it’s flickering.”
“Th-Thank you, officer. Will do.” Betty’s voice sounded like someone tuning a radio. She watched the policeman return to his car. Emitting a hysterical cackle, she announced, “I’m going straight to hell! But, goodness, what a rush!”
Valerie arrived home and unloaded her belongings from the van. She waved goodbye to her partners in crime, buzzing from their successful heist. She opened the cooler and plucked out a single fish, leaving the other two on their frosty bed. Something beneath the ice glistened in the moonlight, some sort of vial, just before the lid clicked shut. The cooler remained outside, hidden under a shrub, while Valerie trotted inside to cook the fish for her dinner—a tasty decoy, she thought to herself.
At eleven pm, a station wagon parked up by the shrub. A man hopped out and placed the icebox into the boot, in its place he left a satchel containing a large sum of unmarked bills before driving off into the night.
Two days after the heist, Jean, Betty and Simone relaxed in Valerie’s courtyard enjoying breakfast. Her roses were now in full bloom; their fragrance operating like an open invitation for friendly winged tourists. Jean turned a package over in her soft, creased hands. An unexpected gift from her friends. She unwrapped it to discover a pair of see-through breasts staring back at her.
“What on earth?” Jean didn’t grasp the gag immediately but soon dissolved into fits of laughter as the women regaled their escapade. She even agreed to consider the appointment Valerie booked for her.
“You know, I think someone else had it in for Dr Roy too. Did you hear his clinic was burgled a couple of nights ago? Some $40,000 worth of Botox was stolen!” Jean declared. She knew better than to indulge in schadenfreude, but, in this instance, she would allow herself just a smidge.
“Oh, dear! We visited Dr Roy’s two days ago.” Betty gasped. “That most certainly was not us, Jeanie. As the Lord, God is my witness! Could, could they hold us responsible?”
“Betty, you’re the last person anyone would ever accuse!” Jean laughed again. “Besides, according to the newspapers, Police have uncovered nothing to suggest a break-in. They are currently under the impression it’s an inside job.”
Simone shot a suspicious glance at Valerie. “How was the fish from your icebox the other night, Aunty Val?”
“Mmm, how should I describe it? I was rather—plump—thanks, Simone.” Her blue eyes twinkled.