The word 'tacky' failed to accurately describe the house on Sullivan street.
There was a stained glass Elvis Presley mounted on the third story. The entire building was a crime against nature.
Three rusting mobile homes out back was what apparently qualified as a 'trailer park'; they were wheel-less, mounted on concrete cinder-blocks with the windows covered by planks of wood. I wondered for an instant if the intruder hadn't given me a fake lead; then I saw someone emerging from one of the trailer homes, carrying what looked like a package.
I was crouched in the darkness of the woods that surrounded the home, my cellphone in hand. Anyone who looked my way would see nothing but a small spot of white; if they looked for a while, they might wonder why there was a floating skull outside the woods. I lifted the phone up and pointed it toward the man, snapping a quick picture. I took another picture of the trailer he had emerged from.
Then, ever so carefully, I started making my way around to the trailer homes.
I had found on my way over here that the helmet also had a form of night vision; it automatically adjusted its view according to what light was available, adding contrast and brightness. When things got really dark, they'd become outlined in a fuzzy green glow. This became increasingly useful as I crept toward the trailers--there were no lights beyond a few pinpricks that peaked out between the planks of wood that had been used to seal up the windows.
When I reached the back of the one that the man had just left, I pressed my head up against the side of it and listened.
Making sure there was no one in immediate view, I slipped around to the side of the trailer and checked the door. It opened with a click; I stepped inside.
The first thing I noticed was the smell--a faint odor of ammonia mixed with something vaguely alcoholic, like paint-thinner. Everything had been stripped out of the trailer until it was little more than a set of four walls--and then every single inch of space had been jam-packed with what looked like a clean, well-stocked chemist's lab.
I thought I knew what to expect out of your standard neighborhood meth lab--soda bottles, glass jars, hot plates, buckets full of towels, coffee filters, even propane tanks--but none of that was visible here. There were plastic tables with clean, polished beakers--stacks of plastic, labeled shelves containing all sorts of equipment--even what looked like a centrifuge near the back. This wasn't some ma-and-pa show they were running--this was professional. I took several more photos with the cell phone, then crept out.
After a few more quick shots of the exterior of the trailer, I figured I had done everything that needed to be done, and was ready to go on my way--but that's when I caught a glimpse of two more figures returning from the house, moving toward the trailer I had just stepped out of. Crouching behind it, I watched as they drew closer--pausing only occasionally to snap pictures of them from the safety of the darkness.
I heard their conversation as they came within earshot.
"...waiter then says, 'Superman, you're such a dick'," one of them said.
The other one laughed, then reached the door. His laughter stopped mid-way.
"Goddammit, James. You're supposed to lock this shit."
"Huh? Oh, c'mon--I was just gone for less than--"
"No, fuck you. You know what the boss said. He isn't interested in any more fuck-ups, alright? You leave the lab, you lock the lab. It's that simple."
"Fine. Not that it matters, anyway. We'll be out of here by tomorrow."
I heard the door jingling. "Yeah. Especially after that business with the girl. Too much attention."
"Didn't he get his money out of her?"
"Yeah, but only five k out of some bucket Bill found under the sink."
I hadn't even thought to check for the money my aunt had mentioned; now I found out it didn't matter. They'd found it.
My fists clenched. I felt myself instinctively reaching for the shrieker, but I held myself back.
Assess, I heard my mother's voice say.
They had the money. Five thousand dollars--that could go a long way to paying some of our debts, especially considering the hospital money. And... they might have more, too.
I wasn't sure how I felt about stealing money from a meth lab. But at the very least, I didn't feel bad about stealing our money back.
I shifted my attention to the house. Only one light was on--the one behind that godawful Elvis Presley window. Otherwise...
I was taking a big chance now, I knew. But if we didn't get that money back--we needed to pay our mortgage now. There wasn't time for an alternative plan.
As the men entered the trailer home and closed the door, I moved for the house.