In my head, here’s how I picture the security tape heist going down: late at night, Regina and I don all black and cruise out to the V & R Mart. Everything’s dark when we get there, but we still park on a side street to avoid scrutiny. Regina pulls out a compressed-air grappling hook and fires it upwards; with a slight *clink* and a tug on the line, we’re ready to start scaling the side of the wall.
At the top, some quick work with a screwdriver opens up a vent and we crawl into the air ducts. Wriggling quietly along, we soon find ourselves looking down into the back room. Regina gestures to the laser grid on the floor. If anything interrupts those beams, the alarms will go off.
Unscrewing the vent is harder from the inside, but a handy telescoping tool does the trick. I’m passing the cover back to Regina to get it out of the way when I hear a slight scraping noise. I whip my head back around to see that I’ve knocked one of the screws off the edge, and it’s falling towards the laser grid below in slow motion.
I stretch for it, but it’s clearly too late for me to grab the screw. As it tumbles past my outstretched fingers, though, its progress slows, pauses and then reverses, traveling back up that crucial inch to stick to my hand. I’ve managed to magnetize my skin just in time.
With the screws secured, I lower Regina down on a rope, and she swings herself over to the shelf with the tapes. She selects the card we need, slides it into an inconspicuous waist pouch, and motions for me to pull her back up.
Minutes later, we’re back at the car. Everything has been put back just as we found it, and except for the missing memory card, there’s nothing to show that we were ever there. The perfect caper!
Needless to say, that is not how it actually happens. Instead, as we leave the hospital, Regina heads into the city instead of going back to my house.
“Where are we headed?” I ask, and she looks at me oddly.
“To get the tapes, like you wanted.”
“Yeah, but — it’s barely evening. It’s not even dark yet! Won’t the store be open?”
“Yes, obviously. How else would we get in?”
“I hadn’t really thought about it,” I lie.
After parking at the convenience store, Regina empties her purse into the footwell of the car, hangs the now-empty purse from her shoulder and drops in her car keys.
“What are you doing?” I ask.
Regina ignores my question and says, “When we go in there, go buy some chips and a soda or something. Doesn’t matter what, just so long as it takes a few minutes.”
I shrug and nod. Clearly, I am not going to be the brains behind this heist.
Inside, the clerk looks up as the bell chimes. Regina asks, “Which way are your bathrooms?”
The clerk points, and Regina heads off that way, nudging me as she leaves. I take this as my sign to look like a consumer, and begin wandering up and down the snack aisles. A can of Pringles feels like the right choice, so I snag one of those, burn a little more time browsing drinks, and take my selections up to the counter.
The clerk rings me up with a minimum of conversation, and I’m swiping my credit card and starting to wonder if I should be stalling when Regina emerges from the bathroom. She walks up next to me and puts her hand around my waist.
“You ready to go, honey?”
I fumble my wallet back into my pocket. “Sure, um, babe.”
“Bye, thank you!” Regina calls to the clerk, smiling brightly. As soon as we’re out of sight of the store windows, though, she starts laughing.
“What? How did it go?”
“It went fine,” she says, patting her purse. “Your improv could use some work, though. ‘Sure, uh, babe,'” she mimics, dropping the pitch of her voice and assuming a goofy expression.
“Hey! I’m sorry, I didn’t know I had a role to play before you tossed it on me at the last second there!”
“So what, you needed time to prepare your lines? It’s fine, Dan, you did fine. It’s just funny. Here, hold out your hands.”
We’re seated in the car now, and I obligingly do as she asks. She upends her purse and a torrent of memory cards pours out, overfilling my hands and spilling into my lap.
“Whoa, what the heck? I thought you were just going to get the one we needed!”
“Which one is that, then? I don’t know what day someone infected me with nanomachines. If I knew that, then we wouldn’t need the tapes at all.”
“Okay, fine, but isn’t your old boss going to notice that all of his cards are missing?”
“Yeah, probably.” She smiles. “It’s probably really going to tick him off.”
“Okay, but we were just in there! He’s going to see us on the camera and recognize you.”
“Sure, he would — if I hadn’t also taken today’s card. The camera’s not recording anything now. No way to tell we were ever there.”
The perfect caper, I suppose. Though I still like my version better.
We spend a fruitless evening at the computer, watching recordings on fast-forward. Although the cards are all labeled by date, there’s nothing mentioning who was working each night, so we just have to put them in one at a time and check. While Regina skips through the tapes looking for herself, I start my phone playing “Yakety Sax.”
“Are you helping here, or are you just clowning around?” she asks somewhat sharply.
“I’m doing both,” I say. “Not a Benny Hill fan?”
“Could you maybe put on something less obnoxious?”
I sift through the internet for a minute, and start playing “Flight of the Bumblebee.”
“Fine,” Regina grouses. “Good enough.”
Eventually, Regina finds a night where she was on duty, and we settle in to watch at 4x speed. This means we spend only two hours watching an 8 hour shift, which is still pretty boring. Nothing obvious jumps out at either of us, and at the end of it, Regina looks at me.
“You want to watch another one?”
“Not really,” I admit. “Maybe we’ll do another one tomorrow?”
She looks relieved. “I was hoping you’d say that. This could take a while. You going to bed?”
“Nah, not yet. I’m gonna go watch Netflix. Want to join?”
“What are you watching?”
“Some terrible horror movie, probably.”
Regina makes a face. “Fine, but I reserve the right to make fun of it.”
“Well, yeah! Why do you think I’m watching it?”
I dig up some mid-90s creature feature, Regina starts complaining basically from the opening credits, and basically it’s a pretty excellent evening. I’ve never had a roommate before, and I’ve always thought that it would be obnoxious to have someone in my space, but this is showing me the good side of it.
The next morning, I wake up itchy. Not all over, though; just my right arm. It’s not red or blotchy, though. If anything, it’s a bit paler than normal. I scratch it, but the sensation is muted, like I’m scratching through a shirt, and it doesn’t relieve the itch. I scratch harder, and to my horror, my fingernails dig in and tear a big rent right down the middle of my forearm.
I spring out of bed, clutching my wrist and staring at my arm, waiting for the blood to start gushing forth. It doesn’t, though, and after a few second I relax my death grip and peer more closely at the injury.
Beneath my skin appears to be another layer of skin, complete with hair and everything. In fact, now that I look at my forearm, not only is it paler than normal, it also doesn’t have the quantity or color of hair I’m used to seeing. My left arm still looks normal. My right arm appears to have a thin sheath of fake skin encasing it.
I carefully peel away the edge of the scratch. It looks unpleasantly like I’m flaying myself, but beneath is nothing but a pristine and slightly sweaty arm. I scratch it for a minute, assuaging the itch, then return my focus to the flesh gauntlet hanging half off of my arm.
The skin is maybe a tenth of an inch thick, like a solid callus. It’s much more fragile, though, as evidenced by the fact that I just tore through it by accident. Overnight, it seems to have grown to cover my right arm from my elbow up onto my hand, covering my thumb. Not only does the skin tone not match mine, but weirdly, the thumbnail that grew over mine is a different color, too. And not like a different natural shade of nail, either. It’s dark green, like it’s been painted.
When I peel off the coating, it comes off in one piece, splitting along the tear I made. It’s all the same consistency, including the painted thumbnail; although it looks just like a nail, it has the same rubbery consistency as the rest of the skin. I wad it up and throw it in the trash, which feels weird, but I can’t think of what else I would do with it. It’s not like I’m going to hang it on the fridge or anything.
Regina’s up before me and making coffee, which is another plus of having a roommate.
“Morning!” she says, handing me a mug. I reach for it, then freeze, my hand inches from the cup.
“What’s wrong?” asks Regina.
“Your nails are painted green,” I say.