Authors: Melissa Pearl
Tags: #coming of age, #justice, #young adult, #fugitive, #contemporary romance
She glanced both ways as she jogged across the road. Her gait reminded me of Dani a little. I frowned. I really had that girl on the brain today. This was a chic brunette, hardly Dani, and yet there was something very Dani-esque about her.
In her hands was a small, cardboard box, tied in a neat bow. She held it carefully as she ducked through the human traffic. She didn’t look my way as she walked past, but my eyes followed her. Mom and Dad were still talking, I think they’d moved on from Italy and were now dreaming about France. I’d tuned them out and they hadn’t noticed.
The brunette girl’s hips swayed slightly as she weaved around a couple of kids and she turned back to glance at them, only to barrel into a Mr. Suit who was so busy talking on his cellphone that he didn’t even notice her. His large body knocked her from her feet. The box went flying, hitting a tree and rolling across the concrete.
My instinct was to leap the railing and go help her, but Mr. Suit said a quick goodbye and was offering her his hand.
“I’m so sorry, Miss. I didn’t even see you.”
She shook her head, wiping the graze on her elbow. It didn’t look bad, but it probably stung a little.
“Are you okay?”
“Yeah,” her voice was shaky. “I just…” She looked behind her, whipping off her shades. “Where’s the box!” Panic swept over her expression.
“Oh here.” The man pointed behind her. She scrambled towards it, collecting it up and gently shaking it.
“No,” she whispered. “No, no, please no.” With trembling fingers she unwrapped the bow and opened the lid. “It’s broken.” Her lips wobbled.
The man beside her felt awful as she pulled out a headless porcelain statue.
“It’s a gift for my grandmother. She’s wanted one of these forever and I’ve been saving up.” The girl sounded so wistful, I felt sorry for her.
“Oh Miss, I feel awful.”
“It’s okay.” She shrugged. “Accidents happen.”
“But I should have been watching the street more closely. I’m so sorry.”
The girl shook her head. “I’ll just have to buy her something else I guess. I don’t think it can be repaired, can it?”
She held it up for the man to inspect and he shook his head in dismay. “These things are so delicate.”
Placing it back in the box with a heavy sigh, she whispered, “Four months of savings wasted.”
I don’t know what it was about the way she said it, but something inside me flinched. Was she trying to con this guy? She sounded so genuine, but…. Damn, if she was lying, she was one good actress.
I licked my bottom lip, leaning closer to the railing, not wanting to miss a second of the interaction.
“Well, let me help you.” The man reached inside his jacket pocket and pulled out his wallet, riffling through the billfold. “How much was it?”
“No.” The girl shook her head and took a step back. “I can’t take your money.”
So no con there, just my overactive imagination wishing for drama. I still didn’t turn away though. The girl was mesmerizing, shaking her head as Mr. Suit pulled out a couple of hundred dollar bills. “But this was my fault and I’d hate for your grandmother to miss out on account of me.”
“I—” The girl pressed her lips together. “I feel weird about that. It was just an accident, you didn’t mean to.”
“Please, I insist. It’ll make me feel better.”
Her smile was sweet, raising her pink cheeks. She bit her lower lip and looked at the wallet with a sigh.
“Come on, how much?”
“It was two hundred and eighty dollars, but you really don’t have to give me anything.”
Pulling out a third hundred dollar bill, he shoved them at her. “Here, please. It’s the least I can do.”
“Wow.” The girl looked shocked. “Thank you, that… I mean, that’s so generous. Are—are you sure?”
“Yes.” The man smiled, placing the bills into the open box, on top of the broken statuette.
“I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone as generous as you before.” She touched his forearm, giving it a gentle squeeze. “Thank you, sir.”
“It’s really a pleasure.” His smile was almost adoring as he looked into her brown eyes…and then his phone began to ring. “Excuse me.”
She stepped back with a grin. “Just watch your step.” She winked, making him chuckle as he answered the phone. His strut told those around him that he’d just played Good Samaritan and felt the richer for it. My eyes travelled from him to the girl, who was looking at the money with a little grin of triumph.
As she turned back to cross the street I caught her eye. She flinched for a second before replacing her surprise with a sweet smile and sliding her shades back on.
Hmm. I frowned. Maybe my imagination wasn’t on overdrive.
I wouldn’t want to bet all my money on it, but I would have happily put a fiver down that she’d just pulled a fast one on that rich guy.
“Zachary? You listening, honey?” Mom shook my arm, bringing me back to the table. “Where have you been?” She grinned at me. “Your burger’s getting cold.”
I chuckled sheepishly. “Sorry, just lost watching the world go by.”
Dad shook his head. “You are so like your Uncle Alex it’s frightening.”
That compliment just made me beam. Uncle Alex was a reporter for the San Francisco Chronicle, got the job before he even graduated from college. He was twenty-six, and one of the most driven men I knew, always hungry for a good story. He was the ultimate truth exposer and never backed down, even if it meant confronting some pretty big issues. He’d outed a few powerful people in the San Fran area and made some swift enemies, but he’d also fought for justice…and won.
I wanted to be just like him.
Glancing over my shoulder, I noticed the girl had disappeared on the other side of the street. I picked up a french fry and popped it in my mouth wondering if I had been right. If it was a con, it sucked that she just ripped that guy off by three hundred bucks, although he looked as though he could take it. A slow smile spread across my face. Man, if that had been a con, she was a really good artist. It had been a piece of magic to watch.
“How about the one with the grey bag?” Marlin kept his eyes on Lucy, indicating with the tiniest flick of his head who he was talking about.
Lucy stole a glance over his shoulder and wrinkled her nose. “I’m not mugging an old lady. What if I accidentally hurt her? Besides, she doesn’t look rich enough anyway.”
“Cyan, she’s dripping in diamonds and pearls. She’s doesn’t even look that old. You just don’t want to do it.”
“Of course I don’t want to do it. I pick pockets, not mug people.”
“You’re not mugging her.” Marlin looked to the sky with a huff. “It’s a simple con.”
“One we’ve never tried before.”
Grabbing her shoulder, Marlin gave it a gentle squeeze. “I know we can pull it off. When you managed to talk your way out of shoplifting the other day, I knew you had the talent. Come on, let’s not waste it.”
Lucy tutted and leaned back against the brick building, folding her arms tightly over her chest. She wanted to shake her head and refuse, but knew she couldn’t. If she hadn’t been caught stealing that food they’d still have something to munch on, but they were out of money.
“We shouldn’t have splashed out last week. We should have rationed our money better.”
“A two-course dinner at Chilies is hardly splashing out,” Marlin mumbled. “Geez, Cyan, we shared the frickin’ meal!”
Lucy swallowed and looked down, remembering how delicious those nachos had been…and the chocolate brownie for dessert…it was the best thing she’d ever tasted.
“We need money. It’s getting colder, picking pockets isn’t going to cut it anymore. We need to up our game. I want one night’s sleep in a bed not made from concrete or dirt. Please, Cy.” Marlin squeezed her shoulder again.
Lucy looked out of the alley to spy the street again.
“Why don’t we go for that black guy instead. He looks like he’s doing okay for himself.”
Marlin flicked a glance past her shoulder.
“Do you honestly think we can persuade him? The lady’s a safer bet.”
Lucy swore under her breath, resisting the urge to stamp her foot.
“Okay, fine.” She snatched the beanie and put it over her head, rolling it down so it covered her face. Marlin had cut eye holes out for her the night before. It felt scratchy and horrible against her skin. She tucked her scraggy hair down the back of her jacket and sniffed.
“Let’s get this over with.”
Marlin peeked out from the alley to make sure the lady was still there.
“As soon as she gets up and starts walking, we’ll make our move. I think she’s paying now. After you’ve got it, make sure you run around the tree, it’ll be too easy for you to get grabbed by people if you stay on the sidewalk.”
Lucy attempted to regulate her breathing as she waited. Trying to convince herself this was a good idea would never work, so she just had to shut her brain off and do it. Closing her eyes, she visualized how the scene would play out.
“Time to move.” Marlin slapped her back before pushing her out onto the street and running in the opposite direction. She stayed against the wall hoping no one would notice her. As soon as the lady separated from the crowd, Lucy dashed towards her. Snatching the purse, she kept running, hoping the lady would be too shocked to hang on and fight back.
“Help! Stop! My purse!” She sounded so distressed, making Lucy cringe.
Following Marlin’s instructions, she jumped down onto the street and raced around the tree. Dodging a kid on a skateboard, she leapt to the side and crashed straight into a body. Tight arms wrapped around her as she fell back to the ground.
“Give me that, you little thief.”
The bag was wrenched from her grasp by an angry looking Marlin. She scrambled out of his clutches and ran into the first alley. Whipping off the beanie, she threw it into the dumpster along with her brown jacket. She pulled her hair free, flicking it out as she ran down the alley and around the back of the building the way they’d planned.
Pulling in a calming breath, she walked speedily through the shop, acting as though coming through the private back entrance was something she did every day. Thankfully the shopkeeper was busy and didn’t notice as she slipped out the front door and ran towards Marlin.
“Are you okay?” She touched his arm, cutting his conversation with the old lady short.
“Yeah, someone just tried to steal this lady’s purse.”
“I saw you run from the shop and had no idea what was going on.” Lucy touched her chest, looking worried as she slipped her hand within the crook of Marlin’s arm.
“This kind boy just saved me from a mugger.” The lady smiled.
Lucy rested her head against Marlin’s shoulder. “That’s my bro, always thinking of others first.” She smiled lovingly at him before touching the lady’s shoulder. “Are you alright? That must have given you such a fright.”
“Well yes, it did.” Her ringed fingers fluttered through the air. “You don’t expect some masked robber to snatch your things when you’re innocently walking along the street.”
Giving her a sweet smile, Lucy wondered how they were going to lead the conversation in the right direction. A few people were watching them, including the black man she’d suggested they rob. She was suddenly glad Marlin had insisted on this lady. She seemed sweet.
Guilt assaulted Lucy as a man passed, patting Marlin on the back.
“Good job,” he murmured.
She noticed him look down the alley she’d disappeared into, maybe hoping to catch her. The idea made her feel tense and she squeezed Marlin’s arm without meaning to.
He glanced at her, kissing her forehead. “I’m okay, sis.”
“I know. I just want you to be careful.” She fiddled with the lapel of his collar, spotting an opening and taking it. “Your treatment starts again on Monday and you know you have to be healthy otherwise they’ll delay it.”
“Treatment?” The lady frowned.
Lucy waved her hand, trying to act as though it didn’t bother her, but her eyes sprouted with tears. “Chemo…again. We’ve enjoyed a healthy remission, but it’s back.”
“Helen, it’s going to be okay.” Marlin squeezed her hand.
Lucy wiped at a few tears that had started to fall. “Sorry,” she whispered, looking at the lady. “Mom passed away a few years ago from the same thing and it just gets me now and again.”
“Oh, my dear.” The lady squeezed her arm.
“We just came out for a final afternoon of fun before we go back to the sickness and the…” Lucy waved her hand and swallowed, sniffing a couple of times for good measure.
“Well, here let me help you enjoy it.” She opened up her purse, pulling her wallet free.
“Oh no, please ma’am, you don’t have to do that.” Marlin shook his head.
“I know I don’t,” she snapped. “But I want to.” She finished with a gorgeous smile.
Grabbing Marlin’s hand, she slapped some money into it and patted his arm. “You two take care of each other.”