Young couple, Kara and Aaron, are cleaning out the old house they purchased for a suspiciously low price when they discover a strange door in the basement. This find should have solved all their problems. However, they realize how wrong they were when someone breaks into their house.
Kara and Aaron trooped down into the basement of their new house. Old boxes were stacked haphazardly in the room, and several broken pieces of furniture were set against the walls. It was even untidier than the upper level.
“Do you ever think that old lady sold us the house so cheaply because she knew we’d be cleaning out her leftover stuff?” Aaron pulled a face as he peered at a box with chewed corners. “We might have a rodent problem, honey.”
“That’s what exterminators are for.” Kara shrugged. “A bargain is still a bargain. Besides, some of this stuff might be worth something. That rocking chair could be beautiful if you can fix it up.”
“I guess.” Aaron ran his fingers over the arm of the chair in question. “But cleaning first. Let’s start turning this dump into our dream home.”
Hours of dusty work later, Aaron moved a large box aside and discovered something strange. He crouched down and tapped on the small, wooden door in the basement wall. A hollow echo sounded from behind the door.
“Kara, check this out,” he yelled. “I’ve found something.”
Kara peered over Aaron’s shoulder as he hooked his fingers through the plain, brass handle. The door didn’t budge when he tugged gently on the handle. It took a hard tug to get it open.
“Hello, anyone home?” Aaron said as he peeped into the dark cavity behind the door.
“Stop kidding around.” Kara braced herself against Aaron’s shoulder as she leaned forward. “What if there’s a pile of bones in there?”
Aaron shivered. Kara switched on her flashlight and shone it into the darkness. A large wooden chest sat in the middle of the space, surrounded by spider webs and dust.
“Ooh, a treasure chest,” Aaron joked. He reached inside, grabbed the sides of the chest, and pulled it out.”Only one way to find out.” Kara grinned at Aaron as she knelt down beside him. “Let’s crack it open.”
There wasn’t a lock on the lid but the hinges were stiff and squealed when Aaron forced the chest open. Inside, he found some oddly shaped objects wrapped in paper. He carefully removed the paper from one of them and let out a disappointed sigh.
“I guess we found Granny’s figurine collection,” he remarked.
“Oh my God.”
Kara took the figurine from Aaron with shaking fingers and held it to the light. Aaron watched in confusion as she checked it all over, her face turning pale and her eyes widening when she examined the base.
“What is it, honey?” Aaron asked. “You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”
“Aaron, we need to see what else is in there,” Kara said in a shaky voice. “And be careful…if I’m right, then this actually is a treasure chest.”
“Nymphenburg…Meissen…and, oh look at this Dresden Lace.” Kara sighed. “I want to keep all of them. They’re so pretty.”
“I don’t think that’s a good idea.” Aaron stared at the search results on his phone.
Kara diverted her attention from the unwrapped figurines to frown at him. “Do you think they were stolen?”
“This collection is too valuable to have belonged to the woman we bought the house from.” Aaron shrugged. “It’s the sort of collection that would be on display and someone clearly hid them here for a reason. If they were stolen then it’s probably not a good idea to sell them in town either.”
“It’s not far to Pennsylvania,” Kara replied. “We should be good if we sell them in a different state, right?”
“I guess so.” Aaron grinned at his wife. “How does it feel knowing that we’re about to get enough money to square away all our debts?”
“It feels this good,” Kara replied with a smile as she leaned over to kiss Aaron.
Decision made, Aaron and Kara packed up the figurines and loaded them into Aaron’s car. Kara wanted to work on tidying up the bedroom and kitchen, so Aaron set out on the highway alone. He’d just passed Lake Milton when he got a call from his wife.
“Aaron, there was a thief in the house,” Kara wailed. “I heard glass breaking and thumping from the basement. I took your rifle and went down there…”
Kara broke into sobs, and Aaron’s heart hammered in his chest. He pulled over to the side of the road.
“Take a deep breath, honey,” Aaron said. “You’re okay, right? The thief is gone?”
Kara sniffed. “Yeah. He ran at me and I fired the rifle. I missed, but it scared him enough that he high-tailed it back out the window. But, baby, he was scratching around in the exact spot where we found those figurines.”
“I’m turning back as soon as I can, Kara,” Aaron replied. “Lock yourself up tight, okay?”
Aaron sped home as fear threatened to overwhelm him. He was right…there was something dodgy about these figurines. And the couple might not be so lucky the next time these people came looking for them.Aaron hugged Kara tightly when he returned home. Her eyes were red from crying, and she was clearly shaken up. Once he felt her relax in his arms, Aaron looked into her eyes and asked her a vital question.
“We’d be returning a small fortune to those crooks,” Kara finished his thought. Kara pressed her lips together into a thin line.
“I refuse to help them in any way after the fright that man gave you. We bought this house and everything inside is also ours. These are our treasures now,” Aaron confidently expressed.
Kara nodded affirmatively.
“And I think I know a way we can hold onto them, but you might not like it.”
Kara tilted her head and frowned curiously at him. “Spit it out.”
“It’s going to sound really dramatic, okay, but hear me out…”
Kara’s eyes grew wider and wider as Aaron outlined his plan.
“You’re right,” she said, whistling softly. “That is dramatic, and a whole lot of crazy. Aaron, I don’t know about this.”
Aaron shrugged. “It’s the only way I can think of to ensure these people never come looking for the figurines, or us, ever again. We’ll move to a new city and start over with the cash we make from selling the figurines.”
“And the plan only works if these scumbags believe the figurines were destroyed.” Kara sighed. She looked away from him to scan the old furniture in the sitting room, still hidden beneath dustcovers. “I was looking forward to making a home here.”
“I know, but we’ll find some other place. It doesn’t matter where we live, if it’s a box under an overpass or a mansion in the hills, so long as we’re together.”
The corners of Kara’s mouth quirked into a slight smile. “Okay, Mr. Charming. I’ll get a fire started in that ancient coal stove in the kitchen.”
“And I’ll swop the figurines in the chest with our plates and cups. Once the fire has done it’s job, it will be impossible to tell that the shattered and charred ceramics in there aren’t from those figurines.”
Kara and Aaron worked quickly but methodically as they moved from room to room, dousing the furniture with any flammable liquids they had. They packed a few necessities but left everything else. They decided to try to make it look like they were out for the evening when the fire broke out.
Once the couple was satisfied with their preparations, they pushed the tins of paint, a sack of flour, and several aerosol cans near the coal stove. Aaron had doused a length of rope in gasoline, and he now ran it from the stove into the last bottle of paint thinners. He ran from the kitchen as the fire licked along the rope.
“I wish we didn’t have to do this,” Kara said as Aaron started the car.”It’s for the best, honey. Look, it’s already spreading.” Aaron pointed at the house.
Several items exploded at once somewhere inside the house. A kitchen window pane burst outward with a spray of glass shards. A gush of flame soon followed it. Moments later, the fire was climbing up the siding on the outside of the house.
“We need to get out of here.” Aaron pulled away and sped through the suburbs. While their old dreams burned with the house, their hope for a better future rose from the fire like a phoenix.
Kara and Aaron drove around until they found a motel that was close to the highway but not close enough to be filled with guests. They checked in, left their bags in their room, then sat together at a campfire in a firepit in the motel courtyard. After all the crazy things they’d been through the past day, it was nice to look up at the stars and relax.
“Everything is going to work out now,” Aaron said.
“I don’t know, baby, I’ve been thinking… have we crossed the line? Are we bad people now?”
Aaron looked down at Kara, who was snuggled into his side and shook his head. “I don’t think so. We’re looking out for ourselves, that’s all.”
“But it’s not like those figurines are really ours.” Kara looked up at him. “They must’ve been stolen. Maybe we should turn them in to the police.”
Aaron sighed and looked at the fire. He thought of the home they’d just burned down, the man who’d broken in to search for the figurines and all the money they’d get once they sold them.
“We’ve come too far to turn back now, Kara. And just think: we’ll be able to buy the perfect little house with this money, a place that won’t require hours of dusting and scrubbing just to become habitable. We’ll be able to think about starting a family.”
Kara grinned, and her eyes gleamed with delight. “I want one girl and one boy. And a dog…and a cat. A goldfish too.”
Aaron chuckled. “See? We can start making our dreams come true.”
Kara’s smile faded. “We could…but it’s a slippery slope, don’t you think? Today we burn down a house, but what happens tomorrow? It’s not like we need all those things to be happy, baby. We’re happy right now, in this moment, and we don’t even have a house anymore.”
“Sure, but don’t you want all those things anyway?” Aaron rubbed Kara’s arm. “I definitely want to give them to you.”
“Of course I want nice things, I’m just saying that maybe we should stop everything we’ve been doing before it’s too late.” Kara looked deeply into Aaron’s eyes.
“I hear you, but we’re almost finished with this business.” Aaron kissed the top of Kara’s head. “I’ll sell those figurines tomorrow and as soon as I come back, we’ll head out to start our new lives.”
“Okay, baby, so long as we’re together I know everything is going to work out.”Aaron didn’t want to risk leaving Kara alone for too long after what happened last time, so he took the figurines to an antique dealer in town. He set the box on the counter and watched Mr. Finch, the store owner, remove several pieces and examine them.
“How did you get your hands on these ceramic figurines?” Mr. Finch asked as he studied the details on a figurine featuring some children.
“They are part of a collection that belonged to my late grandmother,” Aaron replied.
“Hmm.” Mr. Finch set the piece down on the glass countertop with great care. He tapped his fingers against the glass and cast his gaze over the other figurines, which were positioned in a row on the counter. “I’ll give you 200 dollars for the figurines you brought to show me now and 10 000 dollars for the entire collection.”
“What? You can’t be serious.” Aaron shook his head and started placing the figurines back in their box. “I’ll have to find a different buyer for this collection if you aren’t prepared to pay the hundreds of thousands its worth.”
“It’s not an offer.” Mr. Finch put his hand over Aarons’s, blocking him just as he was lifting one of the pieces. “Think of it as being more like a condition. I know for a fact these pieces were stolen and if you don’t sell them to me for the 10 000 dollars I offered you, I’ll go straight to the police and report you.”
“You’re mistaken.” Aaron forced a smile onto his face even though his heart pounded like thunder in his chest as he stared down Mr. Finch.
Mr. Finch smirked at him. “I’m not, so there’s no point in continuing this pretense. I’ve laid out my terms, and the ball’s in your court now.” Mr. Finch withdrew his hand.
Aaron didn’t reply. He hurriedly returned the figurines to their box, rushed out of the store, and hurried back to the motel. Darn it all! He should’ve trusted his first instincts about not selling these things in town. If Mr. Finch were working with the thieves, then he’d just clued them into the fact that the figurines weren’t destroyed in the fire.
He and Kara would have to leave town immediately. They could sell the figurines on the road. Maybe they could stop in Pittsburgh on their way to wherever and sell them there.
Aaron rushed into the motel room to tell Kara his plan, but she wasn’t there. Their clothes lay strewn across the floor, and the mattress and pillows had been sliced open, their contents spilling onto the carpet. There was a note taped to the TV mounted on the wall.
‘Bring the figurines to the abandoned warehouse on Elm Street at midnight. Come alone, don’t try to be a hero, and don’t involve the police.
Kara will pay for your disobedience if you don’t follow these instructions precisely. You’ll get 25 percent of the value of the figurines.’
Aaron sank to the floor, the note trembling in his hands as he reread it. He should never have left Kara alone. He should’ve taken her doubts to heart when she said they should stop because now this thing was like a boulder rolling downhill.
Aaron crumpled the note and tucked it into his pocket. He wouldn’t let anyone harm Kara. He’d do what these slimeballs wanted, and then, once she was safe, they get out of this godforsaken town and never return.Aaron checked the time on his phone. It was 4 p.m. He had 8 hours before he could get Kara back from the kidnappers.
Aaron pulled up outside the antique store just as Mr. Finch was locking up. The man looked around as Aaron approached, the box of ceramic figurines held carefully in his arms and smiled at him. He tucked one hand into his pocket as he turned to face Aaron.
“I see you made a smart decision,” the store owner said.
“I’ve made the only decision I can make,” Aaron replied. He shifted uneasily as he stared down Mr. Finch.
Mr. Finch unlocked the wooden doors to his shop and beckoned Aaron inside. The store owner circled around to the other side of the counter and tapped the glass gently to indicate that Aaron should set the box down.
Once Aaron had placed the box on the counter, Mr. Finch flipped open the cardboard flaps and peered inside. He removed each ceramic figurine, one by one, and inspected every inch of the figurines. He gave a small nod once he’d finished and wrote a check for 10 000 dollars. Aaron stuffed it in his pocket and turned to leave.
“It’s been a pleasure doing business with you,” Mr. Finch called after him as he walked toward the door.
Aaron glanced back over his shoulder at the smug store owner. He longed to hurtle back across the room and hit the man, but he couldn’t resort to violence. Aaron had a plan, and he had to follow through with it if he was going to save Kara. Aaron marched out of the store without replying and drove away. He still had an appointment in Elm Street, and time was running out for Kara.
The abandoned warehouse was dark except for the flicker of fluorescent lights in the small windows set high on the walls. Loose sheets of steel cladding on the exterior rattled in the wind as Aaron approached the entrance. He peered inside, and the first thing he saw was Kara, surrounded by several thuggish-looking men.
“Aaron!” Kara started toward him, but one of the rough-looking men surrounding her stepped forward and blocked her by placing his arm in front of her.
“Not so fast, lady.” The man scowled at Aaron. “Where’s the goods?”
“I left them in my car,” Aaron lied. He squared his shoulders and took a deep breath. “I needed to see Kara first.”
“Well, you’ve seen her now.” The man walked toward the front of the group, his boots shuffling on the dusty concrete as he moved. “Go fetch our stuff!”
The man’s shout still echoed through the open space when police sirens blared outside. Everyone in the room looked up at the windows, where the flash of red lights could be seen through the glass panes.
“Attention!” A commanding voice said over a loudhailer. “This is the police! We have you surrounded. Discard your weapons and lie down on the ground.”
Kara sighed and looked up at Aaron with a frown. They were standing in the police station, waiting for news while the cops questioned the thugs from the warehouse.
“I’m so confused,” she muttered.
Aaron smiled and put his arm around Kara, holding her close. “When I returned to the motel room, and you were gone… I’ve never been so afraid in my life, Kara.”
“But I remembered your words and realized this was exactly the situation you’d wanted to avoid,” Aaron continued. “I asked myself what you would do, and then I called the police. I told them everything and insisted on playing a part in their operation to catch these lowlifes.”
Kara smiled. “So you came to save me with the police right behind you?”
“More or less. I first had to make a stop to ensure that antiques dealer didn’t miss out on his jail time.”
A while later, a police officer called Aaron and Kara into an office. The officer took Kara’s statement, then dropped an information bombshell on the couple.
“It seems the ringleader of this operation is a relative of the elderly lady you bought that house from. He didn’t realize she planned to sell the place until it was too late for him to recover his stash of stolen goods.”
“So the figurines were stolen!” Kara exclaimed.
The cop nodded. “They were on loan from a private collector and were being displayed as part of an exhibition on ceramics at a local museum. Now,” The cop continued. “We have a charge of arson to discuss, don’t we?”
Aaron and Kara exchanged a look.
“See, no matter what you might have seen in movies, it’s not that easy to cover it up when disingenuous people use accelerants in order to set fire to their home. The inspectors immediately realized that the house fire at your property was a result of arson.” The officer stared at the young couple. “Charges will have to be pressed.”