Helzik Frinkle's arm and ankle ached. He swung slowly, back, forth and side to side, sometimes in circles, as the dark city streets rapidly scrolled by below him. His arm ached because moments earlier, the part of the plan which had him resting in a comfortable leather sling for the late night journey, failed. It was only his quick reactions, born from a lifetime of thievery, that allowed said lifetime to continue at all. Although, it has to be said, probably with one fewer limbs or maybe, if he was lucky, he would lose only a hand. Halving his total number of hands, he thought ponderously, could have certain benefits. But, although schemes swam to the front of Helzik's head of fake-hand related cons, his cheery outlook momentarily failed him as the itchy hemp rope tightened around his forearm.
The plan was several months in the making, the whole thing entirely his own thanks to Helzik's crippling trust issues. It began with a balloon built from scratch, Helzik's sewing skills now quite impressive after months of practice. The balloon was stitched from jet black, non-reflective fabric stolen, piece by piece, from Ol' Jerry's Tailorin' Supplies. The resulting mound of material was coated in a rubber glue from Shoe's & Socks, again stolen. Once the glue had set, a leather sling was added to the short length of hemp rope from which he now hung. The leather sling he'd had from Run 'n' Hide, the tanning specialists, and no, the sling was not stolen; Helzik Frinkle broke with tradition, just this once, to ensure a little luxury. After all, he would be in the air for some time, he might as well be as comfortable as possible. Run 'n' Hide would be getting one of Helzik's famous, harshly worded letters when all this was over, that was for sure.
Finally completed, the balloon was filled with hot air generated by the large blue flame coming from the gas bottle on Helzik's lap. This was mildly dangerous, yes, with no valve to control the flow of the flammable gas, his only option was to hold on for dear life until the balloon lifted, then chuck the bottle. Fortunately, he suffered only minor burns to his left ankle as the flame plummeted away.
It was not long after, that a joint in the sling came undone, swiftly followed by several others. Helzik wrapped his arm around the rope and grabbed hold until his strength failed him and left him dangling for a minute or so before the rather beautiful, ornate weather vane atop the church's highest peak caught hold of his burnt ankle. The balloon, taking instruction from nobody but the god of wind, continued onwards, probably snapping Helzik's arm and causing his shoe to be ripped from his foot along with a fair amount of skin.
Luck had always been on his side, Helzik thought with an enormous grin on his sweating face. I mean, the chances of getting a foot unstuck without even twisting your ankle, never mind breaking it, were slimmer than Helzik could calculate, though he spent the next couple of minutes trying.
It wasn't until the wide pale roof of Pete's Bank came into view, that Helzik sprang into action. He pulled a short knife from its sheath at his side and carefully reached up to the hemp rope, cutting into it slightly in preparation. With perfect timing, he cut through the rope, fell ten feet to the roof, landed awkwardly on his left ankle and heard the all too familiar crack of breaking bone.
Thanking The Lady of Chance for the fortuitous non-breaking of his right ankle, Helzik crawled to the iron drainpipe which he knew to lead past Pete Rittannia, the owner of the bank's, office. Thin L-shaped iron brackets held the gutter to the edge of the roof. These made perfect splints, one for each side of his left foot, bound together with strands from the rope.
Joy bubbled from Helzik's body, turning into laughter somewhere along the way; he could not believe this was going so well. His plans always worked, of course, but frequently with more terrible consequences. Once, he had broken his jaw, dislocated his shoulder, lost the fingernails from his right hand, lost a bet and stubbed his toe, all on a single job.
He beamed at the city as he swung his legs over the edge and descended down the iron pipe one-handed to Pete's office window. Here he stopped to withdraw a tiny beetle from his waistcoat pocket and placed it on the glass. At once, the insect lowered its mandibles and began to walk in a large circle, scoring the surface as it went until the tiny scratching noise changed pitch slightly. Then, apparently knowing exactly what it was doing, the beetle walked into the centre of the circle, clamped down with all six legs and its jaws, then unfurled its wings and flapped frantically. There was a small "shink" sound and the circle of glass flew off into the night with the beetle.
Moments later, Helzik crouched on the office floor in front of a safe, having only sliced one rusty wound into his thigh on an unnoticed nail protruding from the outer window ledge. The safe was a Durbang & Finn 1507 Kronnensuche, a model which Helzik had become intimately accustomed to over the years. Well known as the hardest safe to crack in the world, it was heavily favoured by those who wanted something protecting from thieves. Equally, being so hard to crack, almost every thief worth his pepper learned to crack safes on a Durbang & Finn 1507 Kronnensuche; if they could crack that, they could crack anything.
Helzik had the safe open in a matter of three hours and twenty two minutes. This time was a personal best and required acknowledgement through the medium of dance. Singing would usually also be required by the formal laws of thievery but the mitigating circumstances in this case were quite clear, allowing Helzik to forgo that part of the ritual, though he would be sure to complete it later.
Dancing done, Helzik withdrew the three things which the safe contained: a strange golden spoon, a photograph of what appeared to be an octopus and a filing cabinet insert containing a single piece of A4. This probably had writing on, but Helzik had absolutely no need of knowing whether or not it did, and if it did, what was written on it. He knew everything about the piece of paper that he needed to. He knew who would pay over two thousand erlings for it and that was a lot. It was more than the thief had ever had, or even seen in one place. It was enough to replace the gully beetle he used to cut the glass. It was enough to pay his medical bills once he had his ankle and arm fixed. It might have even been enough to make the final payment on the leather sling to Run 'n' Hide if he decided to pay them, but probably not. Helzik Frinkle was not into thievery for the profits. He was in it for the excitement, that hot electric sensation he felt when a plan worked and sometimes, even when it didn't. As long as he stayed free from the city jails, he would continue to wear a grin of contentment.
"Good evening, Mr Frinkle," said a sudden, slow, deliberate voice from the corner of the room, "I think I would quite like you to return that to the safe if you wouldn't mind?"
Helzik heard only the "good" before his reactions threw him head first through the hole in the window and before his mind even had chance to fully understand the danger. He had always reacted this way to sudden peril. There was no "fight or flight" response, as he had already flown before any alternatives could be thought up.
Two nights later, in a flat above the Gaggle of Cats Inn, the sleeping form of Helzik Frinkle lay smiling. A vet stood over him, checking various instruments scattered about the filthy room, sometimes poking Helzik with one of them and analysing the reading.
Helzik was completely covered in bandages. Luckily, there had been a pile of sharp iron filings which had been dumped in the street below the window of the office of Pete Rittannia. This cushioned Helzik's two storey fall beautifully. However, he was left with very little skin on the front of his torso, legs, arms and face. The vet spent day and night soaking and redressing the wounds, but still thought it unlikely that the bloody body would recover without several infections along the way. He told the now awake Helzik this, to which the response was a huge grin, and a gurgling rendition of the song: "To Whom Do I Owe An Erling?"
Halfway through the chorus, which by this point was more bubbling throat noises than words, Helzik passed out from the pain, still beaming unconsciously at the ceiling.