Two turns to the left, one to the right, and…click! The corners of my mouth bend upwards in a smile. Finally. I tap the side of my earpiece.
“We’re in, Joey!”
“You’re a wonder.” I can hear the admiration in his voice. “Cutting the hallway security cameras now. You’ve got seven minutes.”
I remove the parcel wrapped in brown paper and slide it into the side pocket of my leather jumpsuit. Seven minutes? I’ll be out of here in four.
I swing the door of the safe closed and spin the dial to a random number. Once again Myranda Abbott vanishes without a trace. It’s what I do best.
Joey is waiting in the getaway car, a 1970s Ford Bronco. It’s vista orange with white rims and a rollback top. Not exactly inconspicuous, but it just looks so badass. It’s like we’re adventurers heading into the Australian Outback or something. No one would ever guess we’re a band of thieves. Okay, I’m using “band” a bit loosely. There’s just the two of us. I used to work alone…until I met Joey Marlow. It was at the Caronport Kleptomaniacs Convention three months ago. I saw him standing by the snack table, tall with thick-rimmed glasses and dark curtain bangs falling in front of his eyes. It’d be too cheesy to say he stole my heart, so I won’t…but we've been together ever since.
I slide into the passenger seat just in time to hear the high-pitched beep of Joey’s handheld Casio stopwatch. For someone who is an absolute technological genius, he’s still stuck in the 90s when it comes to watches. He even wears a gold Omega wristwatch with the little spinning date wheel.
“Not bad, Randa. Four minutes, thirteen seconds.”
I lean over and give him a quick kiss. “You want to get out of here?”
He grins. “You bet I do.”
He’s about to lean in for another kiss, but we’re interrupted by an ear-splitting alarm blaring from the house. It’s followed by shouts and the barking of dogs.
I snatch the stopwatch, thrilled at this latest development. “Looks like you’re on the clock now, Joe. How fast can you get us home?”
Grinning, he shifts the Bronco into drive and has us galloping away in seconds.
I’m sitting at the kitchen island across from Joey, balancing on a barstool we swiped two weeks ago from McClafferty’s, our favorite pub. Our hideout is perfectly cozy. In all honesty, it’s more like a suburban family home than a den of thieves. It has a special touch from all our favorite places—a flatscreen from Best Buy, a Persian rug from Nordstroms, a mahogany coffee table from Macy’s, and a Jura coffee machine from Saks Fifth Avenue—you get the idea.
“You gonna open it?” Joey nudges the little brown box on the counter. “Make sure it’s the right one.”
I shake my head. “We can’t, Joe. The instructions were perfectly clear. This is a commissioned job. Maverick’s contact said if we open the package, we don’t get the money.”
“Yeah, but what if what’s in the package is worth more than 100 grand? What if it’s some priceless, million dollar artifact?” He reaches towards the package, but I swat his hand away.
“It’s most likely some compromising photographs or something else that could be used as blackmail.”
Joey’s eyes narrow, and he playfully drums his fingers together like an evil mastermind. “Like I said, something worth millions.”
I sigh and roll my eyes. “I’m a thief, not a criminal, Joey. I’m not about to start collecting blackmail from Maverick.”
I know most people wouldn’t see a difference here, but I certainly do. I don’t steal from individual people. Yeah, I might take on an occasional commission when funding is low, but mostly, I target big corporations. I hate monopolies, anything intended to squash the little man. So I steal from the big guys, take what I need, and then donate the extra back to my community and to making the world a better place. Ever heard of “Randa’s Pandas"? It’s a nonprofit I started to help endangered species. And that new community center with the children’s theater program? Yeah, that was me. I’m basically a modern day Robin Hood.
Joey leans across the counter, takes my hand, and presses it to his lips. “Of course, you wouldn’t get mixed up in blackmail. I was only teasing. You’ve got a heart of gold.” He squeezes my hand. “That’s why you're my Randa.”
My heart melts. I love when he calls me that. It’s a play off my name, Myranda. There’s just something about that extra space—that half-second pause—that’s incredibly endearing. It’s a simple reminder that we belong to each other.
Joey’s watching me, his eyes shining. “I got something for you.”
He reaches beneath the counter and pulls up a red and white takeout box. It’s from the Chinese restaurant down the street. “Surprise! I stole it just for you!” He sets the box down on the counter, pleased as punch. “It’s shrimp lo mein, your favorite.”
I raise an eyebrow. “You stole it?”
“Yeah, two boxes for $6.99, if that’s not a steal, I don’t know what is!”
I’m laughing now. That’s the thing about Joey. He drives the getaway car, hacks into security systems, delivers encrypted messages to my contacts…he’s basically the greatest partner in the history of thieving…but I’ve never actually seen him steal anything. He claims it’s because he’s too clumsy, but I’ve seen him hack into a computer mainframe while simultaneously driving a car. The man is anything but clumsy.
I’m about to hunt around for some chopsticks for my shrimp lo mein when my cell phone buzzes. I glance at the lock screen. It’s a text from Maverick.
12:30. Corner of Broadford and East. Come alone.
I notice how Joey is propped forward, trying to get a glimpse of my phone.
“It’s Maverick,” I say. “He wants the drop-off to be tonight. I’m supposed to go alone.”
Joey frowns. “Why can’t I come with you? He’s never made you go alone before.”
I shrug. “He’s probably just getting paranoid now that the FBI are after him.”
Joey’s eyes grow wide as he grabs plastic forks and chopsticks from the odds and ends drawer in the kitchen. “You never told me that.”
“I thought it was obvious. He’s becoming one of the big names in local crime. About time we stop doing business with him actually.”
Joey pours me a grape soda and slides the drink beside my carton of lo mein. “How about I make the drop-off for you tonight?”
I stare at him, surprised. It’s nice of Joey to want to protect me, but that’s not his job. He’s my wing-man, not my bodyguard.
“Thanks, but I’ll be fine,” I say.
“He’s a hardened criminal, Randa. I don’t trust him.” Joey fidgets with his chopsticks, brows furrowed behind his glasses. “I just don’t want to see you get hurt. Please let me do this.”
He looks at me so beseechingly, his brown eyes so wide and caring, I can feel my resolve start to falter.
“Alright, but you better not mess this up. We’ve got $100,000 resting on this delivery and I still have to get a roof on the pool house before fall.”
I’ve never seen Joey look so relieved. It’s as if all the stress lines instantly disappear from his face.
“That’s my Randa,” he says with a smile. “I’ll take care of everything.”
It’s approaching midnight when Joey comes downstairs. I’m nestled in my favorite armchair, reading a gripping biography of Doris Payne, jewel-thief extraordinaire.
I bookmark my page and watch as Joey bustles around the kitchen grabbing last minute supplies. He’s wearing an olive green T-shirt and dark wash jeans. His hair is pulled back away from his eyes, and strangely, he’s wearing contacts instead of his glasses. He smiles when he sees me.
“Randa, check this out!” He holds up a clunky pair of night vision binoculars complete with a ghastly velcro strap for attaching them to his head. “Hands free too!” He beams at me, sliding the velcro strap over his head.
“Joey, I swear, if you don’t take those off right now—”
“Okay, okay.” He removes the binoculars, folding his arms in a pouty way. “But what if I need them for negotiations with Maverick?”
I can’t help laughing. “Trust me. You won’t.”
He smiles at this and comes to sit on the arm of my chair.
“Okay, Miss Expert-At-Everything, you tell me then. I’ve got the address for the drop-off, earpiece for communication, GPS tracking device in case you need to find me…anything I’m forgetting?”
“Um, the package for Maverick?” I nod my head in the direction of the kitchen counter. This man is hopeless without me.
Joey laughs. “Right!”
Jumping up, he grabs the box from the counter and slips it into his satchel.
“I’m heading out then.” He leans over my chair to give me a kiss. “Don’t wait up.”
“You’re sure you can do this?” I ask. I don’t mean to sound doubtful, but the truth is…he’s not used to this sort of thing. He’s the guy in the car on the headset, not the one striking deals, negotiating with criminals.
His eyes drop and he frowns. I wonder if I’ve hurt his feelings.
“I’ll be fine, Randa. You just relax and enjoy a well-deserved night off.”
Joey has been gone a grand total of 23 minutes and I’m a nervous wreck. I can’t read my book. I can’t go to bed. I can’t do anything. I’m just sitting there, staring at the clock, waiting for it to turn 12:30. I’m longing to turn on the GPS to check his location—just to make sure he’s in the right place, that he’s okay…but then he’ll know. His tracking device will buzz and he’ll know I’m checking up on him. What if he thinks I don’t trust him? Maybe I should just call him—tell him I was worried…I imagine his earpiece buzzing right when he’s negotiating with Maverick. What if I distract him? What if Maverick notices? What if he thinks Joey didn’t come alone like he was supposed to? Maverick doesn’t take well to bending the rules. I know this for a fact.
I freeze, a sick feeling crawling in the pit of my stomach. My mind falls back to the conversation we had at dinner and how Joey wanted to open the package so badly. My chest tightens, and it suddenly feels difficult to swallow. What if…what if Joey did open the package…what if he’s trying to blackmail Maverick?
I push the thought away almost as soon as it crosses my mind. It’s Joey we’re talking about. My Joey. He wouldn’t do something like that. Not in a million years. I need to forget all these crazy, paranoid ideas and just go to bed. I get up from my chair and start to head towards the stairs when I notice something on the counter. The yellow case, the bright orange cap. It’s Joey’s inhaler. The inhaler he doesn’t leave the house without—he’s forgotten it.
I walk briskly through the abandoned streets. I tell myself this midnight excursion is about the inhaler. I’m going because I’m worried about Joey. I just want him to be safe. When I find him, I’ll watch from a distance. I’ll stay completely out of sight. If anything happens, if his asthma flares up, I’ll be right here. I’ll have the inhaler. I’ll rescue him. He needs me. That’s why I’m here. I tell myself over and over, as if saying these things will make them true.
I cut down East Market—I’ll get to the drop-off location quicker this way. I’m passing a row of businesses when my breath catches. There. Outside the glass windows of a fancy downtown shop is Joey. He’s not at the corner of Broadford and East. Not even close. What is he doing just standing there?
I fall into the shadows of a side alley, watching. That’s when she appears. The shop door opens and out steps a tall, blonde woman, dressed in a white blouse and black pencil skirt. She’s stunning. So stunning in fact, I want to tear her eyes out. I see her nod to Joey as if she knows him. He steps closer, reaching into his satchel. My heart drops. It’s the brown paper package. Joey is giving her Maverick’s delivery. She smiles, places a hand on his arm, and leans in…
I can’t watch anymore. I can hardly breathe, each intake of air coming in short, little gasps. I look down at Joey’s inhaler, considering taking a few puffs to try to steady myself. That’s when I get the second shock of the night. The prescription label wrapped around the tube—it isn’t for Joseph Marlow. The tears are flowing down my face before I can stop them. It wasn’t supposed to end this way. I wanted to trust Joey forever. I wanted to be his forever, but the truth is I don’t even know him. I read the name again, just to make sure I wasn’t mistaken, but it’s written there, clear as day. Walter McClaren.
It’s nearly 2 o’clock in the morning and I’m sitting in my favorite chair, eyes locked on the front door. Words are festering inside me, words laced with anger, disappointment, and betrayal. Words that will tear me apart if I don’t get to speak them.
At last, the door creaks open and Joey walks inside.
“About time you showed up…Walter.” My voice is frigid like a jagged piece of ice.
Joey takes a step back, his expression a mix of uncertainty and confusion.
“Walter McClaren? Is that your real name?” I thrust the inhaler in his face. “It’s like I don’t even know you.”
When he sees the inhaler, he breathes a sigh of evident relief and I see the stress in his face deflate. “Randa, relax. Walter McClaren is just one of my aliases. I set up that name to get medicaid—that’s it, I swear! It’s just the ID I use for prescriptions.”
I stare at him for a second. I’m genuinely impressed with the brilliance of such a scheme—honestly, why hadn’t I thought of getting free healthcare? However, now is not the time to be impressed with Joey, I’m still too furious.
“Forget the name,” I say. “I don’t care about the name. I want to know about her. Who was she, Joey? Who was that blonde girl?”
Joey looks puzzled. “You mean Maverick’s contact?”
“No, Joey! I mean the girl you met on East Market. You know the little rendezvous you had when you decided it would be a good idea to betray me and Maverick?”
I’ve caught him now. His ears start to turn red and he looks genuinely panicked. His forehead wrinkles in confusion and I might detect a bead of sweat on his temple. This lasts for perhaps a second when, just like before, his face suddenly clears. He actually has the nerve to smile. “Oh Randa, I see what’s happening here. It’s not at all what you think.”
I let out a deep, exasperated breath. “Then why don’t you tell me, Joey? What should I think? Because it all seems pretty clear to me.”
“When you saw us, did you even look to see where we were standing?”
I shake my head.
“For a thief, you aren’t very observant.”
If I had something to throw at him I would. I’m so mad I want to scream. “Oh, I’m plenty observant. I saw her making a move on you if that’s what you mean.”
Joey sighs. “I didn’t do anything wrong, Randa.”
“Nothing wrong?” I’m almost too angry to respond. “You gave her Maverick’s delivery!”
“The box you saw wasn’t Maverick’s.” Joey lets out a deep sigh. “It was a jewelry box.”
“What are you even talking about?” My face is a contorted mess, tears of hurt blended with lines of confusion.
He sighs and looks at me with soft eyes, full of admiration and love and apology. “I was returning the ring I bought last week to the jeweler to get it resized.”
My heart starts to beat faster. “Ring, what ring?”
Joey drops his eyes and smiles. It’s like he’s a shy little boy again. “The ring I got for you…to ask you to marry me.”
It’s the third shock of this night and one I certainly wasn’t ready for. My heart soars with hope and love and the desperate wish that it could actually be true. It’s only a second later that reality comes crashing down and I shake my head, tears falling down the sides of my face.
“That doesn’t even make sense, Joey. What was a jeweler doing open so late?”
Joey smiles. “She’s the real romantic type.”
I glare at him.
“Nooo, not in that way!” He holds up his hands and vigorously shakes his head. “I mean, she wanted to help me with the perfect surprise. I told her how we were always together and I didn’t know when I could get away to drop off the ring, and so, when I mentioned I’d be out late tonight, she offered to stay open just for me.”
“Until after midnight?” I stare intently at him, so he knows just how far fetched this story sounds, how much faith he’s asking me to find. “Why did she meet you outside the shop then? Why not inside?”
Joey nods as if he knew I’d ask. “Security cameras. She didn’t want it on the record that she helped a customer so late at night. It might have looked suspicious.”
Joey flinches. “Please, Randa. You’ve got to believe me.” The look in his eyes is so urgent, so genuine, it makes me go a little weak in the knees. “I love you so much. All of this was because I wanted to surprise you. I did it for you. Please believe me.”
I want to believe him. Every piece of me wants to fall into his arms and kiss him and tell him I never doubted him, not even for a second…but I don’t know if I can, not after what I saw.
Buzzzt. My phone vibrates on the edge of the armchair. I look down.
eBanking Notification: $100,000 has just been deposited in your account.
This is followed by a text from Maverick.
Money transferred. Tell J he did okay.
I look across at Joey. There’s a glistening line of tears streaming down his face. He was telling the truth. This whole time, he was telling the truth. I don’t think I’ve ever loved him more.
I wake up to the sound of police sirens and shouting. I reach across the bed for Joey, but he isn’t there. There’s flashing lights of red and blue outside my window. I hear the whir of a helicopter, more shouting. Search lights drift back and forth across my yard. What’s going on?
There’s footsteps coming up the stairs, loud echoing footsteps, not at all like Joey’s light tread. I sit up, grabbing my robe from the chair beside my bed. I drape it around me and reach for the gun I usually keep in the nightstand drawer. It isn’t there.
There’s a pounding knock on the door followed by an aggressive male voice. “Myranda Abbott, this is the FBI and you’re under arrest! Open the door!”
I don’t move. My heart is hammering against my ribs and my mouth has gone completely dry. All I can think is where’s Joey?
I guess I always knew this day would come. I’m sitting in a room of concrete, four gray walls enclosing me in every direction. There’s a long table with a chair for me and a chair across from me. A bright lamp hangs over my head. To the side, I see one of those two-way mirrors, so they can watch every move I make. I flip them the bird just for good measure.
My thoughts haven’t drifted much since I was ripped from my house and stuffed into a police car. I still have one goal, one mission. Find Joey and protect him.
The metal door at the front of the room swings open. A tall, bald-headed man steps inside. He takes a seat in the chair across from me.
“So, Ms. Abbott? Are you ready to talk?”
I hesitate. I think about Joey and how much I love him. I would do anything for him. I really would. This might be my chance, the best way I can protect him. I look at the interrogator and nod my head yes.
“Thank you for your cooperation, Ms. Abbott,” the bald man says at the conclusion of my interview. “I will make note of your compliance and do my best to ensure you get the most lenient sentence possible.” He rises and gives me a curt nod. As he exits the interrogation room, someone else enters in his place. My heart soars. It’s Joey. He’s here. He’s okay.
“Joey!” I reach out my arms for him to hold me, but he just stands there, staring.
“Joey?” I whisper this time, turning my back away from the two-way mirror so they can’t read my lips. “It's okay, Joey. I confessed everything. I told them it was all my operation and that I’m the criminal mastermind. I told them I was the one dealing with Maverick and you didn’t know a thing about it. I told them you’ve never even stolen so much as a pack of gum in your life. I told them you’re innocent.”
“They already knew, Randa.” He reaches out and pats my hand, a pitiful gesture like he’s comforting a dog or a small child. “I was the one who turned you in.”
I recoil from his touch. It’s like he’s poured acid on my skin. I stare at him, mouth open, heart ripped in two. No, heart ripped into nanoparticles, the surface area of every infinitesimal speck causing a reaction. The metal door swings open and instead of the bald-headed man, it’s her. The woman from the jewelry store. She looks back and forth between the two of us and smirks, a knowing look in her eye.
“I see Agent McClaren has finally told you the truth.” She folds her hands behind her back and takes a few deliberate steps towards me. “He’s been with the FBI for five years now, one of our best undercover agents.”
“Agent McClaren?” I nearly choke on the words.
She nods. “My fiancé.”
Tears blur my vision as the dagger of her words cuts into me. This can’t be true. It can’t. It just can’t. I look over at Joey, but he’s avoiding my eyes.
“We could have shut down your little operation months ago, Abbott,” the woman continues, “but we needed you to lead us to Maverick, the real criminal.”
She walks over to Joey and kisses him, full on the mouth. “Now, thanks to the fine work of Walter McClaren, we’ve got two crooks for the price of one.”
I ball my hands into fists. I want nothing less than to destroy this woman. I’ve never wanted anything so badly.
“We’ll see you in court tomorrow, Abbott. Not that much else needs to be said.” She walks to the door and opens it, her cackling laughter echoing down the hallways of the building. Joey follows. I see his hand on the door as he closes it, the light flickering off his gold wristwatch.
And now it’s just me, alone in the room. I crumple to the floor, body heaving in sobs. I have never felt so broken. So betrayed. As I’m lying there, crying, I notice something. There’s a crack of light coming from the bottom of the door. I know it wasn’t there before. I get up cautiously from the floor and brush myself off, wiping the tears and snot from my face. Nobody on the other side of the mirror seems bothered. In fact, I don’t know if they’re even watching. I wave at the mirror and take a few steps closer to the door. Still no reprimand, no armed guard rushing in. I reach out and touch the door. It’s just as I thought. The door wasn’t closed properly. The handle never latched. The corners of my mouth bend upwards in a smile as I slip through into the dimly lit hallway. For a thief, this will be easy.
And just like that Myranda Abbott vanishes without a trace. It’s what I do best.
Want to know what happens next? Continue reading in Part 2!
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