The sales rep told Nicole installing the AC system would be a two-day job, max.
The trouble started when there wasn’t room in the box for the new circuits. That meant a trip for Kyle, the lead electrician, to get a new box, and an extra day. Then they forgot to plug the hole for a drain hose. Nicole woke up to a crash in the kitchen, and found a bat flying figure-eights around the light fixture. She slammed the door shut, trapping it in the kitchen.
The next morning, she found the bat nestled behind the fridge. She sent a plea out to the social media gods. Ten minutes later, she’d caught the bat in a towel and threw the whole bundle out the window.
On day four, they cut a small hole in the wall for a switch, but the plaster gave way, sending lead paint dust and god-knows-what carcinogens into the air. Nicole ran in and found a foot-wide gash running from near the ceiling almost all the way to the floor. “We’ll patch it up,” Kyle said. His partner Josh added to the mess by cutting the edges smooth, revealing the emptiness between two studs.
“What’s that?” Kyle said. He reached behind the remaining plaster, pulling out a coffee can. No one in the room recognized the brand. The top was covered in canvas, held on with electrical tape. “It’s heavy,” Kyle said. “Is it yours?”
“I just moved in two years ago.”
“Open it,” Josh said.
Kyle took a box cutter out of his pocket. He bent to slice into the canvas, but then stopped. “You should do it.” He held the knife out to her.
Nicole took it and knelt in front of the can. She hesitated for just a second, then pushed the razor into the canvas.
Just as everyone had hoped, it was bills. Wads of them, taking up all of the space in the can. Nicole teased some out in clumps: tens and twenties and fifties.
“There’s got to be thousands, hundreds of thousands,” Kyle breathed.
“Enough to pay you guys off,” Nicole said.
They stared in silence while Nicole reached in again and again.
Kyle broke the spell. “You’re lucky,” he said. “But we got to work, or you’ll owe us all that and more. Come on, Josh, it ain’t ours.”
“Wait,” Nicole said. “Of course I’ll share. After all, you found it.”
“We couldn’t,” Kyle said, though Josh looked a little less sure than he did.
“You keep working. I’ll count it out, and we’ll talk about it at the end of the job.”
The take was over $120,000, just by the face value of the bills. Nicole thought some of them might be even more valuable to collectors. She posted a couple of discreet questions and pictures on Facebook. Before Kyle and Josh wrapped up for the day, Nicole was fielding calls from reporters. The next morning a satellite truck arrived and a reporter knocked on the door, hoping to get a story for the lunchtime broadcast.
Dazed, she and Kyle and Josh all told their stories and posed with the can and a few of the bills.
“How will you split it?” the reporter asked.
Nicole blurted out, “I think a fifteen percent finders’ fee is customary.”
At the same time, Kyle said, “I was thinking sixty/forty.”
Just a beat behind, Josh asked if that was 15% for each of them.
The trio, forgetting the reporter, started to squabble. Finally, Nicole put on a huge fake grin and said, “We’ll figure out something fair. Do you mind turning that thing off?”
“I think we got what we needed anyhow,” the reporter said. It was gold.
Kyle and Josh worked quickly and silently the rest of the day. Nicole locked herself in her office, listening to catch them plotting. After all, they knew the money was in the house. And after lunch time, so would the rest of the city. Quietly, she stashed it in the safest place she could imagine: inside the vents of the old window unit AC.
For their part, Kyle and Josh silently agreed that two AM would be a good time to break in. There wouldn’t be any three-way split.
There wouldn’t be any two-way split, either, Josh told himself. He considered the nail gun Kyle kept in the back seat.
At ten past two, Kyle parked the car about a block from the house. He felt the weight of the pistol he’d bought that night against his thigh. No need for Josh to know about it. They crept into the backyard, to the bulkhead that led to the basement.