Tap tap tap, tap tap tap. Tap tap tap, tap tap tap.
A small pigeon lands on the car’s black bonnet, distracting its driver from his rhythmic wheel tapping. Malcolm Reynolds looks up, his youthful face – defying the sands of both time and activity – throws the bird a wry smile. He stares at it for a moment, it stares right back. Then, as if aware of what is to follow, it quickly flies back into the welcoming arms of the morning sun.
Tap tap tap, tap tap tap.
“Ten, nine, eight…” Mal pulls up the creased sleeve of his checked shirt. The elegant, gold watch around his wrist reads 9:01am. “…five, four…”
Tap tap tap, tap tap tap. Tap, tap, tap…
The Midland Trust’s heavy steel doors burst open and three men – each carrying a black sports bag – storm out. Mal reaches back and opens the driver’s side back door. The three men make a beeline for the vehicle and pile inside.
Mal glances over his shoulder. “Any problems?”
The first man in removes his balaclava, revealing the face of man deep into his fifties, grey hair already winning the battle of the scalp. He shakes his head. “Clockwork.”
Mal forces the car into gear and removes the handbrake with relish. Rubber quickly defeats concrete and the car screeches away from the curb. He gently presses down on the accelerator and joins the morning traffic.
The other two men remove their balaclavas. The youngest of the three, sat in the centre, leans forward and places his head in between the two front seats. “Why aren’t we smashing it?”
Mal sighs. “Jesus, kid, how many times.” He checks his rear view mirror. “Draws unwanted attention. They’ll find us soon, but not too soon. We went over this.”
The kid slumps back down. The older man nudges him in the ribs with one arm, grips onto the door with the other as Mal swings the car around a bend. “Sorry, Doc,” he says.
Mal laughs. “You’re alright, Marty. Just relax, kid.”
Mal swings the car around another right turn and past a stationary police car. He looks in his wing mirror, just to make sure. “See. What did I tell ya?”
The kid wipes his brow. “Cool. Yeah, cool. I know, I know.”
He shifts down a gear, making a final right turn into the industrial district. Soon, they’re surrounded by nothing but factories and private buildings. The sound of a siren quickly reaches their collective ear.
“Here we go!” Mal exclaims, unsure if he has successfully hidden the excitement this part of the job still gave him. He fears he hasn’t.
He flicks a few stray strands of sandy brown hair from out of his eye line and presses down hard on the accelerator. Forty, fifty mph, he shifts up a gear, sixty, seventy mph. The sirens are louder now, pounding inside cars and heads. The once stationary police car joins another and together they flank the car. Mal knows they are currently radioing for further back-up. It won’t matter.
As Mal swings around a final bend a disused, decrepit industrial unit comes into view. As they approach, the outer gates slide open. Mal accelerates through the gate and into the unit’s large open entrance. As quickly as they slid open, the gates automatically close shut, seconds before the chasing police cars brake and skid to an inauspicious stop. Mal peers over his shoulder at his passengers. “Clockwork.”
He drives deeper into the unit, out of the sight of the helpless police officers. “Right, home stretch. Don’t forget what I told you.”
The old man grips his sports bag tight. “We got it, Doc.”
Mal reaches down and pulls a pair of black sunglasses from the dash, slips them on. “Remember, cover your eyes,” he says.
With only two-hundred metres separating them, the ramp comes into focus. Mal gently squeezes the pedal, his attention on the speedometer. One hundred metres, fifty metres, twenty metres…
The car hits the ramp with a thud, its base evidently raised slightly from the ground. Mal makes a quick mental note to deal with this issue later. As the vehicle rises into the air, a bright white light fills the entire world around it. For a second, there is nothing but light. So bright it hurts. The three men cower in the back. Even now, it forces Mal to squint behind his sunglasses.
As the white light fades, Mal shifts the car into neutral and prepares his foot above the brake. The three men uncover their eyes just in time to see the pile of tightly arranged cardboard boxes break their landing. Mal grips the wheel tightly and brakes hard, the car coming to a comfortable stop. Just as planned.
For a moment, silence. No talk, no engine, no sirens. Silence. Mal often finds his clients need a moment or two to gather themselves, so he allows it. After a while, he speaks. “OK, job done. You good to go?”
“Sure.” The old man removes several bundles of fifties from his bag and leaves it on the back seat.
He peers down through the passenger side window which has been rolled down. “You wanna count it?” Mal shakes his head. “Course, why would you.”
Mal smiles. “Remember, Marty, be careful with it. They won’t cotton on immediately, but somewhere along the line they’ll realise there’s two sets. And if they catch you-”
“Don’t worry, Doc. It’s not like I know your name anyway. And I’m not that stupid.”
“Good,” Mal says, offering half a wave goodbye. “Oh, and don’t forget to turn your watches back.”
“See ya, Doc.”
Soon, the three men are out of sight. Mal checks his watch: 08:01am. He grins at the watch as though thanking it for confirming his continued perfection. He turns the ignition on and the car fires into life. He sits for a moment, waiting. Then, his phone rings.
“Hey. Yeah, yeah, all done … Well, the ramp needs looking at … Give me an hour to get back and take care of the Repeats and I’ll meet you back there … No, they didn’t even ask, can you believe that? … OK, see you then.”
Mal throws the phone onto the passenger seat. As he pulls out the unit’s back exit, he can’t help but laugh at the sheer ignorance of the day’s clients. At no point did they ask what happens to their own doubles.