Crime Pays

R.R. Virdi


Copyright 2016

Published 2017


Ninety-nine dollars isn’t enough to a save a life. It is however enough to piss off the wrong people.

Great start to my evening.

The halogen bright LED screen flashed blue as the pinhole-sized camera above registered my approach. White script scrolled horizontally across the ATM.

I ignored it and disregarded the bass solo in my chest. My breathing slowed and my heart rate followed. I pulled a sliver of metal out of the breast pocket of my shirt. The dull aluminum turned away most of the glaring screen’s light.

I pressed my thumb to the end of the blade and tapped the frame of my oversized glasses.

“Pairing.” The device vibrated between my hands.

A sharp hiss escaped my lips as I winced from the sudden flare of twin windows coming to life within the lenses.

“This isn’t fishy at all,” came a voice a few feet to my side.

Hooking a finger against the frame of my glasses, I tugged them down to eye my friend askance.

She arched a dark brow and ran a hand through her pixie-like black hair. “What?” Her fingers went to the stiff looking collar of her police uniform. She ran her hands against it and her face furrowed like she imagined the collar would choke her any moment. “This is uncomfortable, not to mention, nine kinds of illegal.”

I snorted, giving a gentle shake of my head. My glasses shimmied back into place. “Impersonating an officer is a single offense. I think.” I shrugged and extended a hand. “Key-sim.”

My friend scoffed. “You think. And robbing an ATM makes two.” She handed me the flat-tipped stick of the tool.

I flipped it in my grip and cast a wary look over my shoulder.

The Chicago skyline was a row of concrete monoliths washed in neon lights fighting a one sided battle against the darkening night.

If I didn’t hurry, it’d be the last skyline view, and not just for me.

I scanned a small panel of the ATM and found the button-sized hole I needed. It had a slender indent for a key, or my tool. I inserted the fibrous end of Key-sim in. Squeezing it until it went to work, taking the right shape inside. The panel popped open in seconds.

“Dammit, Lilah, you’re going to get us arrested.”

I worked without pause, fishing through a bundle of wires. A bead-sized light of iridescent green pulsed from behind the cables. “You’re supposed to keep us from getting arrested. Act normal, like there’s a stick up your ass and like you didn’t get paid today.”

“I didn’t get paid…” Her voice could have peeled the paint from the surrounding plastic paneling. “What do I do if someone comes to use the ATM?”

“Tell ‘em it’s in service and to give you their cash. Write them a deposit slip.” I grumbled to myself as I sent my hand into my pocket. My fingers closed around a thin tie and I pulled it free. With one hand I grabbed the bundle of wires tight, compressing them as much as I could. I looped the zip-tie around them and pulled tight. With the cluster of wires handled, I pulled on the end of my blade.

There was a moment of resistance before an aluminum endcap popped off. I pinched my fingers against the now protruding rectangular piece and pulled. It came free, trailing a silver braided cord as I tugged it along. I dragged it through the exposed panel, over the wiring and towards the blinking light. There was a moment of fumbling as I struggled to align the cable’s male end with the port within the ATM.

Click.

I sighed in relief.

The blue screens within my blade lens interface flashed to black. A white bar cursor blinked at the far edge—waiting.

My thumb brushed against a band of cool metal against my right index finger. The first of four metal rings on that hand. I hoped they were worth the price.

I pressed my thumb to the first ring while bumping the opposite end of my blade. The handheld computer shivered once in silence. A blue light pulsed at the end of the blade.

“Pairing. Paired.” The device shuddered again.

My fingers danced through the air, every intangible keystroke recorded by the NFC rings. They relayed messages to both the blade and my glasses.

I hammered out the code I’d committed to memory. “Here goes nothing.”

“Here we go to jail.”

“Try being an optimist, Kaycee.” I shook my head and poked the space in front of my index finger. The command went through. Any camera footage our presence would be erased. The built-in recording device would loop on older, clean footage.

“Fine, I’m certain our rather perky—well mine not yours—butts are going to jail. Happy?”

I exhaled a sharp puff of air through my nostrils. “Ye of little—”

Black turned to an onslaught of white as the screen strobed like a dying light.

I winced, shutting my eyes as I reeled. “Crap, I think we’re in trouble.” I could almost hear Kaycee swallow.

“What kind?”

I opened my eyes and found the screen had settled. A single line of code at the top left caused cement to churn in my stomach. “Uh, how good do you think you’d look in orange?”

“I can make anything work, girl. Uh, I told you so. Oh, and did I mention, I hate you, and your brother.”

I flashed her a weak smile. “Sorry?”

“He’d better be worshipping at your feet after this.” She shook her head but didn’t turn to run.

Ninety-nine dollars can buy you a decent portable computer, but it can’t buy you good friends.

“Right, start the timer.”

Kaycee blew out a breath. “What’s the average response time for the PD?”

“Average here is six minutes and three seconds.”

“Gotchya. Done.”

I bobbed my head in silent thanks and returned to work. My fingers moved through the air like a master marionette puppeteer. Code raced across the screen and the cement in my gut hardened as another surprise ebbed into life on the screen.

A single watermark in faded white appeared in the top right.

I blew out a curse. “Make that three minutes and forty-three seconds.”

Kaycee spat out a string of profanity that could’ve embarrassed a drill sergeant. “Why’s that? No, go on, tell me. Better be damn good, because if the cops don’t shoot you, I sure as hell will.”

“The bank this ATM belongs too…it’s mob owned.”

“We knew that. I’m not seeing an issue.”

“Dirty cops on the take. Who do you think they’re working for? This is the same family giving them their cut.”

“Priority call. They’re going to hustle to protect their side income.”

I nodded.

Kaycee made a sound you’d use to urge a horse to move faster. “Hurry the hell up then.”

My face twisted into a scowl and I typed on.

“Excuse me?”

The hardening concrete in my stomach chilled like winter ice had formed over it. I turned to the source of the voice.

The man was a living caricature of a Fat Cat. His generous stomach strained the buttons of his two-piece designer suit. Black may have been slimming, but the color couldn’t work miracles. His face creased as he pursed his lips and stared from the ATM to me.

We stared back.

A silent countdown went off in my head as I tried to keep pace with the all too real one the police were operating by.

One of the man’s hands went to his pocket, coming out a second later with a tawny envelope. The paper slip was stuffed thicker than a deck of playing cards and shook in his grip.

“Is the machine broken? I’m here to make a deposit?” He eyed me, then Kaycee.

To her credit, my friend didn’t miss a beat.

“Maintenance. Machine’s been having some issues with deposits. People have reported incorrect balance statements.” She held out her hand. “I’ll write you a receipt of deposit, that way there’s no mistakes.”

A silence fell between us. Quiet can speak all sorts of volumes however.

Ninety-nine bucks can buy you some things. For the rest, cheap online uniform suppliers work wonders. I hoped nothing was off about our attire.

Any unassuming—and in this case, unflattering—gray uniform can be passed off as something for janitorial or repair work.

Kaycee’s local police outfit required a bit more detail.

The devil’s in those, and the man eyed her like one.

I swallowed a golf ball-sized lump in my throat.

The envelope shook harder and the man looked down to it. His porcine-like nose twitched as he weighed the options. He nodded. “It’s four thousand in a mix of twenties and hundreds.”

Kaycee sucked a breath through her teeth. I could see the muscles around her neck tighten for a moment. She exhaled and took the envelope from the man. “I’ll have to count it, you understand.”

I caught her not-so-subtle cue and returned to work.

Two mins, twenty-five seconds before we’re in real trouble. No pressure. You got this. You got this.

I tuned out the conversation between Kaycee and the man. Another line of code went accepted by the operating system.

A series of X’s appeared and the denotation for a dollar sign.

I smiled. It was premature.

Three digits flashed into life in the top left of the screen followed by another triplicate. A series of four tagged along.

A phone number. And it didn’t belong to the police department. It was private.

The earlier dial out wasn’t to the cops then.

My heart pumped Freon through my bloodstream.

The bank’s owners were on their way.

I entered the sum of one hundred thousand US dollars. My pulse calmed a bit when the number was accepted. The screen informed me that it’d have to be closed out until the next business day for sufficient lack of currency to tender.

I pulled away from the machine as it shuddered, seeming more in protest of my actions than what was about to come.

A sound like rain on a tin porch emanated from the ATM and a torrent of pale green smacked into the pan below the blue screen.

Kaycee was by my side in a second, kneeling and plunking a silver briefcase to the ground. She snapped aside the security clips and opened the armored clamshell.

“How much longer?”

I hissed and scooped the first load of cash, heaping it unceremoniously into the case. “Not long enough. Besides, our company isn’t going to be of the officious nature, you know?”

Kaycee managed to fix me with a heated glare without even staring at me. “So the ‘Shoot first, shoot again,’ kind of people?”

I tilted my head to the side as confirmation.

She huffed out a breath and grabbed another bundle of cash.

I noticed a certain chunk of money had vanished. I arched a brow, giving her a sideways look. “What happened to that guy’s deposit?”

Kaycee gave me a smile that belonged in commercials. “Uh, I’m keeping that. Call it a bestie fee for helping you with this nonsense. I’m going to buy concert tickets, down payment on a car—textbooks.” She heaped another pile of money into the case as fast as the machine trundled it out.

I helped her while holding my gaze.

She caught my stare and her lips went tight. “Think I should I get the textbooks first?”

“College is a bitch.”

She snorted and shoved the last bit of cash into the case, flipping it shut. “Ain’t it? Right, let’s get out of here. I really hope your brother learns his lesson this time.”

I shrugged. “It’s possible, but, no matter what, he’s family.”

Kaycee sprinted to a black-and-white SUV parked at the curb. “You ever consider putting him up for adoption?”

You can’t always choose the people you call family. But, no matter their faults, some of them want to be good. You can either leave them on the ground when their down and need help, or, you can offer them a hand to pick them up. Some people would call that enabling.

I wasn’t one of them.

Sometimes if you help someone enough, they’ll straighten out. That’s a chance that needs to be taken, and the reward’s worth it.

If it meant meaning saving my little brother and getting his ass in line, I was willing to risk it.

Kaycee skirted around the front of the vehicle, toting the briefcase in a loose grip. The armored shell thunked once against the front grill of the SUV as she passed. My friend swung open the door, lobbing the case onto the back seats before she clambered in.

I raced to the passenger door and slid into place. My blade rested on my lap as I swiped through the air. Both displays pulled to the side as if they were snatched by an invisible hand. Jarring white filled the lenses. I shut my eyes for a second and listened.

Kaycee turned the key and the SUV shuddered to life with a series of burbles. “I still can’t believe you stole this.”

The corners of my mouth twitched, begging to spread wide. “I didn’t steal it. We bought.”

“Pfft, yo-kay, sure. How’d that happen again?” Kaycee let out a little laugh as she pulled the vehicle away from the curb.

“Police vehicles go up for government auction all the time. It’s usually after they’ve hit a certain mileage or have been battered up enough. It took me a solid day to get into their system. After that”—I leaned forward and banged a hand on the dash—“I convinced it that this SUV had already been up and sold at auction. Legally speaking, it’s ours.”

I could feel Kaycee’s stare.

“Okay, it’s less a matter of being ours and more of it’s not theirs anymore. Better?”

“Tch, not really. So where next?”

“Find the other ATM in Streeterville. The one we looked up.” I typed a quick query into the blank search engine. Jarring white melted into a backdrop of mottled slate with a black overlay.

The site was horribly dark and a pain to look at.

“Uh, Lilah?” Kaycee’s voice sounded like she’s gargled with sand and glass.

“Yeah?”

“Remember that call that went out?”

I nodded and tried to swallow the miniature, beating heart lodged in my throat.

“I think they got there just as we pulled out.”

I waited for the news to get worse.

“And I think that’s them following us in the rearview. Late 2030’s Cadillac SUV. That, or we’re being trailed by pimps.”

My lips pressed tight and I tugged the glasses down just enough to look at her. “I’m hoping its pimps.”

Kaycee blinked and cast a quick look over her shoulder. “Words I never thought I’d hear. Mom was right, I shouldn’t have hung out with you so much. Bad influence.” She shook her head and depressed the accelerator.

The vehicle lurched forward with renewed vigor as Kaycee turned the corner of the block.

I leaned to the side, eyeing the rearview mirror to catch a glimpse of the vehicle tailing us. My stomach felt choked by barbwire. “They’re not running plates.” I jammed two fingers against the lenses, driving them back into place around my eyes.

With a quick succession of hand gestures, the screen shifted into a black command prompt. I returned to work.

“What are you doing?”

“Trying to talk to the brain on that thing. See if I can pull up the car’s VIN and find out who owns it. Meantime, hit the lights.”

“You want us to get arrested?”

“Who’s going to pull over a police car?”

Kaycee mumbled something under breath. I managed to catch the end of it, “—face.”

“You’re lucky, you’re driving. Talk about my face again and I’ll kick your ass.”

She snickered. “You need to kick the junk food before you think about kicking anything else.”

I inhaled a sharp breath and shifted in my seat. “I’m going to stab you—”

The deafening sound of a police siren erupted from the vehicle.

A spinning cascade of red and blue lights washed over my glasses. The colors and brightness refused to be dimmed by the dark lenses. My head struck the back of the rest as the vehicle picked up speed.

“Can’t hear you, Lilah. Sirens. Loud. Shit!”

My world snapped to the right and I had to brace a forearm against the door to keep from smashing my head against the window. “Damn. Drive straight.”

“I am. Screw you, road humper.”

I blinked. “What?”

“Asshole was straddling the end of his lane, coming into ours and then drifted into another before coming back—oh my god—don’t drive and send dick picks—dick!”

My throat seized in a battle between breathing and sputtering laughter. A few breaths later and I’d steadied myself. I returned to the command prompt.

“Crap, they’re still following us, and they’re getting closer.”

“How? Isn’t everyone moving out of our way?”

“Yeah, that’s the problem. Everyone’s out of their way too! And it’s not exactly I can pick this thing up and call for help.” She yanked the mic for the dash radio, shaking it before letting it fall.

“Brake check.”

“What?” She snarled and the world jerked to the left.

“Slam the brakes. If they’re hounding our ass, they’ll either stop or—”

“Be wedged up our butts. Can’t lie, I’ll try anything once, but, not a fan of that.”

“We’re not exactly going to lose them in this thing. It’s kind of ostentatious.”

“Whose plan was that? You couldn’t have stolen a KIA?” Kaycee didn’t argue the point further however.

The world ground to halt as I snapped forward. The belt went tight around my torso like I was being hugged by a python.

Metal and polyurethane crunched. The world shook harder and my brain felt like it was doing jumping jacks inside my skull. Brakes and rubber squealed in protest of the opposing force. The SUV rolled forward despite Kaycee leaning hard on the pedal to stop.

Everything slowed.

My glasses barely hung on my face, sitting at the end of my nose and the sides nearly off of my ears. “That was unpleasant.”

Kaycee coughed. “Why didn’t the air bags go off?”

“Rear end. We slowed down and the car’s armored enough.”

“Yeah, they didn’t slow down—shit.” She unbuckled her belt and flailed, looking to the mirror. “Dudes in suits, and I’m not talking the cheap government kind.”

She was right. Two men approached, dressed in the kind of clothes and with the looks that belonged in a crime noir thriller. They weren’t subtle about their motives. The sleek, burnished silver handguns that each held onto made it obvious.

“Hookay, they’re actually carrying.” Kaycee’s chest heaved and quickened with every passing second. She slammed the shifter into park. “What do we do?”

I slipped out of my buckle, fighting to stop the sudden increase in noticeable pulsing over my body. The arteries in my neck and wrist throbbed in unison. I stole a quick breath and grounded myself. “You still have the baton and spray?”

Kaycee glanced at me but nodded.

“Good. We’ve got one shot at doing this right.”

“And what exactly are we doing?” Kaycee shivered for a second before getting it under control.

“Go limp. Follow my lead.”

She acknowledged in silence. Her body went slack against the seat and her eyes half closed.

Atta-girl.

I follow suit and slumped. My brain tingled as numbers counted down. Each breath seemed heavier and louder than the last.

A garbled voice came from outside the window.

The door latch clicked.

“Now!” I spun on the seat, kicking out like my legs were pistons. My heels crashed into door, flinging it open.

A pained groan came from outside.

My fingers clawed into the seat as I hauled myself forward. I launched out of the car, reaching into my pocket. Cool metal filled my palm. I squeezed hard and wrenched the cylinder free. With a snap of my wrist, a narrow pole extended from the object.

The criminal righted himself and aimed the gun at me.

A cold chemical cocktail rushed through me in. It felt like my veins were snap-freezing from the inside out.

The notion of failing galvanized me more than the threat of being shot. I sank to a knee, casting the baton in a wide arc. Hardened composite material struck the gunmen in the soft tissue on the side of his knee.

He screamed and buckled.

My thumb pressed against a pea-sized bump on the baton handle.

Violent streaks of electricity crackled from the weapon’s tip. I twisted, sending it plunging towards his crotch.

His face tightened in something beyond pain and his body contorted in silent agony.

A scream from the other side of the vehicle tore my attention away from the gunmen.

I cast a look over my shoulder and through the open doors to see Kaycee standing above the other assailant.

She bore down on him with a small canister spewing a concentrated cone of pepper spray. Kaycee’s foot lashed out, kicking the gun from his grip. In a fit a poorly thought outrage, she flung the can at him full force.

He recoiled, pawing with renewed intensity.

Kaycee followed up with a series of kicks to his legs with one in between them for good measure. She raced back into the car, chest heaving. Her eyes carried a wild light in them.

I raised my knee to my chest and stomped.

There was a crack like dry twigs breaking. A shrill scream followed.

I dove into the SUV, fumbling for my belt. My fingers fumbled over the metal clip in an adrenaline fueled craze. A snap-tug of my hand sent the belt across my waist and clipping into place. I exhaled what felt like all of the air in my lungs. The hyperawareness left with it.

Kaycee placed the vehicle back in drive while I cast a wary look over my shoulder.

“Shit. Just shit.” Kaycee shook in her seat, her hands coming to the side of her head as if to hold it steady. “We just… Those were… Shit.” Her breathing quickened despite being visibly taxed from the short fight.

“I know. Hey, yeah, that was…” I touched two fingers to my throat, feeling for my pulse. My hand shook as I held it there. “I feel you.”

“No. No, you don’t.”

“Fair enough, K.”

“For what it’s worth, I’m sorry.”

“Is sorry worth a new sense of calm for me?”

I pressed my lips tight to keep from laughing. “Not really, no.”

She waved me off with a hand. “Then I’m collecting from your delinquent brother. Make me get almost whacked by the mob. Make me rob an ATM. Make me steal a police vehicle. My ass.”

I held up a finger as a silent gesture of correction. “You can take the mob.”

She eyes me askance, quirking a single brow.

“You didn’t rob the ATM. I did. And you didn’t steal the car.” I flashed her a grin.

She didn’t return it. “Girl, if my ever-so-fine butt is occupying the driver’s seat—and it is—then I’m saying I stole it. Give me my dues.”

I relented and bowed my head in acquiescence. “Fine. Fine. Just get us to the other ATM we talked about. We’ll do this one faster.”

Kaycee mumbled something under breath.

I couldn’t make it out but the general tone and context had something to do about an electronic device, my genitals, and a bunch of ice.

Kaycee was a poet at heart.

The discontent grumbling kept up as she brought the damaged SUV into a shopping center. A carousel of fluorescent colors illuminated the square, emanating from each of the many stores.

“There.” I pointed to a small run-of-the-mill hardware store sitting recessed in a wall of gray stone.

Kaycee’s fingers drummed against the steering wheel. It wasn’t a fun, rhythmic beat.

“You good?”

She flashed me a look that told me she wasn’t.

I reached out and put a hand on her shoulder and squeezed. “Hey, thank you.”

Her drumming stopped and she looked at me.

I gave her the most sincere smile I could. “Couldn’t have asked for a better friend. Thanks, K.”

There’s something about the simple words, the honest ones. Words like, thank you. Telling someone that they genuinely mean something to you. That you give a damn that they give one back. It can help settle the most frazzled nerves and renew someone’s spirit.

She nodded more to herself than me. “I got you. And after this, you’re getting me drinks until I forget everything.”

I snorted and agreed.

Kaycee pulled the police vehicle into a spot and parked. She exited the vehicle in silence, steeling herself for a repeat performance.

I gave her all the space and quiet she needed.

We moved towards the machine with the sort of weary resignation that comes with working a full day.

I repeated the earlier process, occasionally shooting looks to my sides to ensure no one found our activity suspicious. I made every effort to ensure my glances looked like nothing than a reprieve from staring at the insides of the machine.

Do anything with enough confidence and an air of boredom, and people will think it’s natural.

“How long we got with this one?”

My mouth twitched. “That’s weird. No timer. No silent call went out…to anyone.”

“Don’t we need these guys following us for your plan to work out?”

“Ideally, yeah. Get the case.” My attention remained fixed on finishing the last bit of code.

Something heavy plunked down by my side. A black, nondescript briefcase that could’ve belonged to any banker.

“Way ahead of you on that one.” Kaycee booted it over with the tip of her foot before falling to a knee. She thumbed the clasps open and spun the case to face me.

My fingers finished typing through the air.

The ATM remained disconcertingly silent. A sound like flipping through a deck of cards emanated from its center before the dispensary slot opened. Cash slid out as fast as we could rake it into the case.

I yanked the link to the internals of the machine and replaced the paneling. “Dump the case in the back seat with the other one.”

Kaycee grunted as she moved off. “You still haven’t told me how to plan to get them to follow us. You know the first family hasn’t forgotten. They’ll be tailing us too.”

“I’m going to call them.”

Kaycee sputtered as she reached the rear passenger doors. She pulled the door open, tossing the case unceremoniously into the car. “You’re going to call them?”

“Yup.” I headed to my seat, opened the door and buckled in. “Start the car and take us back on the road. I’ve got two calls to make.”

Kaycee pressed her lips tight and gave me a sideways glance. She said nothing, turning her gaze ahead.

I held my blade in my left hand, sliding my thumb against the length of it. The end flashed once as a beep emanated from my lenses. One lens morphed into a background of black with an array of white numbers. I moved a finger through the air, keying in the first number I had committed to memory.

The temple tips of my glasses thrummed behind my ears. A line trilled.

Someone answered. “You’re calling from a blocked number. Who is this?”

“The girl with the fifty grand you asked for.”

Silence, but the line was live.

“There’s a warehouse in the Fulton River District. Unmarked, old brick place.” His lips smacked audibly together. He gave me an address that I seared into memory.

“How’s my brother? I want to hear him. Put him on.”

Silence.

My heart somersaulted into my throat just below my jaw. It felt like I’d swallowed a pulsating balloon, inflating without stop until it threatened to suffocate me.

Someone coughed. It was a dry thing like they’d gargled with a mix of sawdust and broken glass.

“Lye, that you?”

My throat tightened in response. It wasn’t an act. Nobody but that little mischievous shit would have known to call me by my nickname. “Yeah, Tycho, it’s me.”

He sniffled and racked his throat hard. “I’m sorry. I totally fah—”

“Tycho? Tycho!”

“You heard ‘em, he’s fine. Bring the money he owes and his debts are squared. After that I recommend you get him out of town…permanently. Your brother’s got a nasty habit.”

My teeth gritted against his each to the point I was worried about cracking them. “Sure thing.” I didn’t give him the pleasure hanging up on me. I slid my thumb against the blade, terminating the connection.

Kaycee let out a low whistle. “Well, that was tense. What now?”

“I make the call that’s going to screw them every-which-way to Sunday, and K, it’s only Tuesday.”

Her mouth moved in a series of micro-twitches like a rabbit’s. “Uh, I don’t even know what that means, but props, you made it sound scary.”

I growled.

Kaycee raised a hand. “Chill. How ‘bout giving me some directions?”

She had a point. I exhaled and flipped into a navigational menu on my lenses. “Out Streeterville. River North, Fulton River District is where he said. There’s a storage facility there.” I gave her the exact building address.

“You think it’s one they own? We all know some cops on the force are taking cuts and not logging electronics they pick back up off the streets. They’re keeping ‘em and reselling ‘em.”

“I don’t doubt it.” I took a breath to steel myself before dialing another number. The line rang as I pulled my glasses from my face. I yanked the connection cable from my blade and plugged the micro-sized tip into the small port in the lenses. A silent prayer went through my mind hoping that the voice distortion would work.

I placed them back on just as they answered.

“Whoever this is, you’ve better have one helluva damn good reason to be calling right now.” A chorus of angry yelling tinged with more profanity came from the background.

“I know who robbed you. That’s why you and your boys are throwing hissy fits right now, yeah?”

Another bout of silence.

I guess the mob and police force took drama classes together.

“Be real careful what words come outta your mouth next.”

My jaw tightened for a second. “You want your money, get your boys looking for this plate.” I gave them the vehicles license plate number. “Black SUV, it’ll be in the Fulton River district in a bit. Your money will be on the rear passenger seats of the car. You can take up the theft with the owners. Better hurry. Or, you’ll never see your hundred grand again.” I followed up by listing the same address the crooked cops had given us.

“You think you can—”

I ended the call. Yes, I can. And I did.

I’m not a vindictive person, but it felt good being able to stick it to three collective groups of scumbags in an evening.

“So, you gave them the deets on the car we’re driving. That’s cool. Cooool.” Her fingers beat against the wheel without pause. “Cool.”

“Say ‘Cool’ one more time.”

Kaycee huffed out a breath. “I don’t know if you see the flaw in your plan, but let me highlight you on it. We’re in the freaking car right now! The car you told them how to find? I mean come on, how long before those goons are on the road—by the way, there’s not a zillion roads to where we’re going—and come looking for us?”

“K, breathe. Attitude, not helping. We want them to find the car. Not us. So, step on it and get us there fast.”

Kaycee’s chest heaved several times before she relaxed. “They need invent a Zen shot. I swear, you’re bad for my blood pressure.”

I didn’t respond. I couldn’t argue her point, and I hated losing arguments.

We arrived in the district without another accident, which was a small relief. Minutes passed before Kaycee found our way to the address we were given.

The officer’s description was close enough. The building was aged brick that was losing the test against time. Pitted mortar with some holes that had clearly had a more ballistic origin. The building was the color of a washed out macaroon, a sickly pale yellow.

Kaycee pulled the vehicle into a spot near a burgundy industrial steel door.

Cheap metal garage doors blocked any passage inside.

“What now?”

“We get out and finish this thing. Where’s the third case?”

Kaycee gestured over her shoulder with her thumb.

I leaned back, snatching the battered cheap case.

It had belonged to a travelling artist, used to store his small prints as he travelled to conventions across the country. The cheap black and brown vinyl covering peeled and sported holes from years of bumping into things. Our father had left it to Tycho, filled with my brother’s own scribbles from his youth.

My hands shook as I opened. Kaycee’s hand fell on mine, giving it a gentle squeeze.

“I got you, girl.”

“Thanks.” My voice came out harsher than expected.

She fetched the other two cases and popped them open.

We shoveled fifty grand from each of the other cases into my father’s.

“That should do it. Here.” I rolled my wrist and flourished with my hand, producing an antiquated looking key.

Kaycee plucked it from my grip, looking it at like it was a foreign object. “Uh, you shouldn’t have?”

“It’s a car key.” I flashed her a smile. “This isn’t our only ride.” I patted the dash.

Her eyes widened. “You jacked another car?”

I shook my head. “I convinced the same auction that another vehicle sold—legally—to us. Was a bit of a pain to do. Police impound lots of cars. Some end up selling after long enough. This is ours now.” I gestured to the back end of the lot where a random series of cars sat parked.

Kaycee turned the key over, sputtering at the emblem. “You stole one of these?”

I nodded. “Dump this in the trunk and wait inside. Lay low, be ready to start and get it going.”

She nodded, exiting the SUV with the briefcase in hand. Kaycee sprinted over to the far side of the lot.

As soon as she vanished from sight, I shut the silver briefcase from the first bank heist. A few breaths helped settle the electric convulsions in my stomach. I leaned into the door and shoved it open with more force than necessary. My thumb moved to lock the doors on instinct, but I restrained. Instead, I flicked unlock switch.

I took one last look at the vehicle, and the remaining the briefcase on the back seat. Shaking my head for clarity, I sucked in another breath and headed towards the burgundy door. The base of my fist bounced off of it several times.

Something heavy clicked on the other end.

An officer in his mid-forties with a sharp, military cut, opened the door. He was built like someone whose diet consisted of protein shakes and anabolic steroids. His dark eyes fell to the case in my grip. He moved out of the way in silence.

I stepped inside, casting a wary look around the place.

The warehouse was dimly lit by a series of weak yellow bulbs that flashed intermittently. Rusted steel racks lined the walls and much of the interior space. Colorful cardboard boxes and bare electronics filled each shelf.

I bet that none of those items had been paid for. But they were damn sure going to be sold for a buck.

I fell in step behind the walking supplement advertisement while brushing my free hand against a pocket. My baton was still there, just in case I needed it. I hoped I wouldn’t.

The silent mountain of muscle led me to the center of the warehouse.

A trio of officers stood around a chair.

My brother sat unrestrained in it.

One of the officers had a gun leveled at him. The man was something pulled out of the eighties, from his long, mustache, to the sunglasses indoors. He had the same haircut at the musclebound freak.

They all did.

Nice to know they got a group rate at their local barbershop.

I threw the case at their feet. “It’s there. All fifty g’s.”

The rake of a man with the gun nodded a fellow cop on his right. “Check it.” He looked back to me. “See? He’s fine.” The officer took a step forward, whipping out his hand. The barrel clipped my brother across the temple, sending him out of the seat to the ground.

“Tycho!”

He coughed on the ground. Scrabbling to his feet. Tycho brushed hands across his stained white shirt and his faded jeans.

The cop waved the gun in admonishment. “Ah, hold up, kid. Not so much moving until my buddy’s done counting.”

Tycho’s mouth opened but he shut it. Instead rubbing a hand through his dark, ear length hair. “Sorry.” He didn’t look at anyone, but I could tell the comment was directed at me.

The kneeling officer grunted for the attention of the gun toting ass. “It’s all here. Fifty whole and large like she said.”

A feral smile spread over the man in charge’s mouth. “Who says crime doesn’t pay?” He looked around to his crew who burst into a fit of laughter almost on cue. “Take your brother. Free advice, don’t let him gamble in this town again. And, quit cheating, or, don’t get caught.” Another chorus of laughter filled the room.

Tycho raced over and wrapped his arms around me.

I placed a hand on the back of his head. “I got you. You’re good. Let’s get out of here.” I led the way until the unmistakable sound of gunfire thundered from the entrance. My fingers closed tight around my brother’s wrist as I led him down a hall comprised of towering metal racks. “Stay low and keep moving.”

He nodded in silence.

The officers had drawn their guns, waiting rooted in place.

Seven men, all dressed like the ones who’d rear-ended us, sprinted through the way the officer had led me down. The fanned out in a semi-circle facing the officers.

I tugged on Tycho’s wrist to remind him to keep moving.

“The fuck’s this?” One of the mobsters jabbed his compact machine gun at the case.

The officer frowned. “It’s one of my deals, why? Got shit to do with you.”

“Yeah? Funny, cause sitting out there is one of your cars. Same car some of my boys hit earlier for jacking us. Take the case.”

Three of his men moved to take the case.

The officers trained their guns on the mobsters. “Like hell.”

I jerked Tycho harder. “Move.”

We kept low, doubled over as we navigated through the aisles. Both of us made it to the door, stopping as we noticed the series of dents and holes concentrated around the lock.

I shut my eyes and pulled it, hoping it wouldn’t make too much noise.

It groaned in protest, but nothing loud enough to draw attention.

We slipped through it.

I jabbed a finger to the far end of the lot. “Silver car, see it? Run.”

He nodded and broke into a sprint that I matched.

“Thanks, again.”

“Shut up. Don’t mention it. Never do it again, or, next time, I’ll kill you.” My lungs strained from the effort of talking and running.

A staccato of thunder cracked out from inside the building.

It was nice to know that some people never learned how to use their words to solve problems.

We stopped when we neared a silver, black-topped coupe.

“Where did you get this?”

“Shut up, Tycho.” I rapped my knuckles on the rear bumper of the mid-2000’s Porsche 911. “Kaycee, drop the top. Open up.”

The vehicle flashed as the doors unlocked. A second later, an irritated burble emanated from the rear of the car as it shook into life. The top folded back.

I hopped the door, landing into the passenger seat. “Shotgun.”

Tycho grumbled something and tumbled over into the vehicles half-bucket sized rear seats. “Dad’s briefcase?”

“Got a going away present for you. Booked you on a train, thought you should take that. Get out of town. Call when you’re safe, ‘kay?”

He nodded without a word.

Kaycee hissed and grabbed my shoulder. “Duck!”

We did in unison.

“What’s up, K?”

“Another SUV. Another group of not-so-friendly looking dudes.”

I smiled. “The other family I called. They’re about to find their stolen money in the back of a police cruiser, and those officers inside…with another family.”

Kaycee eyed me. “Girl, you scary.”

I gave her wolfish smile. “When it comes to family, damn right.” I took a peek and noticed the men had entered the warehouse. “Safe. Back up out of here and let’s go.”

Kaycee matched my feral grin. “Don’t have to tell me twice. We’re keeping the car, right?”

“Hell yes.”

We tore off down the road, enjoying a rip-roaring soundtrack only six figures of car can deliver.

Sometimes crime does pay.

I looked over the seat at my younger brother.

And sometimes it saves.


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