TRL Collection #2

It’s been another two months so I’ve compiled all the stories (and their respective prompts) that I’ve written over November and December.

I’m still taking requests in the forum thread, but I’ll also accept them from discord, twitter, and tumblr.


The Split

Everything had been going fine, tripped alarm notwithstanding. The tripped alarm worked out in their favor as now they could use the emergency exit to move the bags to the van. Cleo and Dixie had a decent assembly line going. Cleo was bagging up sculptures and then tossing the bags out the fire door to Dixie, who in turn tossed them through the open doors of the back of their driver’s van.

“Loving this efficiency, Dixie,” Cleo said. “It’s truly some Henry Ford shit.”

“I know! I don’t think I’ve ever seen this many bags at once,” Dixie agreed. She swung another bag into the van. It landed on the pile of bagged sculptures and made both a crunching and a shattering glass sound. Dixie winced.

Cleo looked up at the sound and gave Dixie an admonishing glance.

Just then, Southern burst into the gallery. He and Nero, their crewmates on this job, were supposed to be in the lobby holding off the cops.

“Nero’s just been killed! We need to leave!” he said.

“Are you sure?” Cleo asked, leaning to look around Southern, into the lobby. If Nero were only injured, they had a responsibility to make an attempt to get him out of the scene.

“Positive,” Southern said. “This antsy pig on his first day of class got spooked and shot him right through the eye. I killed him back, but we gotta go or this is gonna turn into a bloodbath.” He rushed through the emergency door and climbed into the back of the van.

Cleo and Dixie didn’t need to be told twice. Cleo zipped up the last bag, threw it through the door to Dixie who tossed it in the van, and jogged the rest of the way. They both climbed in, careful not to step on the bags, and pulled the doors shut behind them. Southern banged his fist on the back wall to signal the driver to leave.

The ride to the warehouse the Syndicate had provided was silent. Southern got out his phone. The light from its screen illuminated his face as he reported Nero dead in the Hole-in-the-Wall app. The pointed absence of a fourth crewmate killed the jubilation that should have come with a score so big as to be swimming in duffel bags.

The post-robbery workload of such a large score dampened the mood too. They had stolen twenty-seven expensive sculptures from the art gallery and only broke two. Now all those sculptures had to be inventoried, individually packed, and loaded into a truck. From there, Southern – who was lead on this job – would be responsible for delivering them to the Syndicate’s nearest depot.

Again, the assembly line was put into place. Cleo itemized each sculpture, making note of descriptions. Dixie would then wrap them in bubble wrap. Southern was in charge of building boxes and packing them.

“You know,” he said, breaking the silence, “it’s not all bad. The split will be in thirds instead of fourths. We’ll all make more.”

Cleo raised an eyebrow at that, but said nothing. Dixie didn’t even look up from her bubble-wrapping.

“No, it won’t,” she told him. “His cut goes to whoever he left in his will. It’s in the manual.”

Southern faltered in taping the box he was sealing shut. Cleo spied on him over her clipboard, watching his expression. He looked like he was struggling to swallow, but he kept working.

They went on like that for another half hour, completely quiet except for the sound of packing tape being rolled out. As such, they all heard when a car pulled up outside. All of them froze and listened to the sound of a car door opening and shutting. It could be the police, and they’d be out for blood since Southern had killed one of them. Killing each other made the terms of The Agreement hazy. The locals often took it personally.

The sound of approaching footsteps thudded through the walls. Dixie was the only one of them still carrying her weapon. Cleo and Southern carried shotguns and so had set them aside to make the pack-up easier. Dixie hovered her hand over her revolver. They all watched the door.

The knob jiggled, but didn’t open. When they arrived earlier, they found the door sat unevenly in its frame, making it hard to open and close. They hadn’t been able to get the deadbolt to turn either. A moment later, the door flew open and banged against the wall, kicked in by the person on the other side. Dixie yanked out her gun out of its holster and pointed it at the intruder.

It was Nero.

He stood in the doorway for a moment, furious face scanning the room, then his head snapped to focus on Southern. Nero pulled something out of his pocket and threw it at Southern. It glinted in the fluorescent lighting as it flew through the air, seeming to unfurl a little as it traveled. It hit Southern in the face and fell to the floor with a metallic clatter.

“Motherfucker!” Southern said, reaching for his mouth. Nero rushed at Southern and pushed him down. Southern reached out behind himself to catch himself as he fell backwards. His mouth was bloody, cut open from the thing Nero had thrown at him which they could now see was a pair of handcuffs. Nero kicked Southern in the side. Southern tried to roll away. Nero kicked him again. And then again. And again.

All this time, Dixie still had her revolver trained on Nero. She looked to Cleo to see what she made of this.

“Nero, what are you doing?” Cleo shouted.

Nero didn’t look away from the ass-kicking he was dishing out, but he explained in between kicks.

“This son of a bitch,” kick, “watched me get tased”, kick, “and he just stood there,” kick, “and let it happen.” Nero gave Southern one hard final kick in the stomach to ensure he wasn’t going to be pulling any surprises. Southern curled himself into a protective ball. “And then he watched them cuff me and drag me off to the police van. Didn’t lift a finger. I was lucky I had my clip key on me.”

“Is that true?” Dixie asked, turning her gun on Southern.

He didn’t answer. He only gurgled out a moan through his mangled mouth.

“It is,” Cleo said. She joined Nero to loom over Southern, to further discourage any sudden moves. “You thought if you let him get arrested, the take would be split three ways instead of four.”

Southern squeezed his eyes shut and whined.

“We were lucky he couldn’t carry that many bags by himself,” Cleo said to Dixie.

“Well, what are we gonna do with him?” Dixie said, coming to stand over Southern too. She still had her gun pointed at him.

“We’re going to ruin him,” Nero said. He pulled his phone out of his pocket and opened the app, but he groaned in frustration. “Ugh! He marked me dead so I can’t review him.”. Nero kicked Southern again for putting him out of his way.

We still can though,” Dixie said, whipping her phone out her back pocket. Cleo pulled hers out of the breast pocket of her jacket and they set to work.

“Watched… one of our… crewmates… get arrested…” Dixie dictated as she typed out her review with her thumbs.

“Lied to us about a crewmate dying under the false assumption that fewer surviving crewmates would net a higher cut,” Cleo read aloud as she typed out a much longer treatise on the circumstances of this job.

“Zero,” Dixie finalized.

“Zero,” Cleo concurred. “I assume you’ll be giving him a zero when you get reinstated?” she asked Nero.

Nero just kicked Southern again in reply.

“Well, his career is over, but I’d feel better if he were taken out of play entirely,” Cleo said, crossing her over arms and staring down at the pitiful pile of kicked ass at her feet. “He’s clearly a danger to the entire profession.”

“You can have it quick,” Dixie said to Southern, straightening her aim, “or Nero can kick you to death.” Southern’s eyes widened in terror.

“I have a better idea,” Nero said. He fetched the handcuffs he’d thrown at Southern. Then he picked a tiny object off his belt and used it to unlock them.

“What is that?” Cleo asked.

“A clip key,” Nero said. He held it out in the palm of his hand so they could see. It was a tiny – less than an inch – but functional black plastic handcuff key. It had a clasp, so it could be clipped to clothing. “I never leave home without it.” He clipped it back on to his belt loop and turned his attention back to Southern.

Nero grabbed Southern by the hands and dragged his slack body over to a support column. Propping Southern up against the pole, Nero handcuffed him to the post. Nero stood up and surveyed his handiwork.

“Do you ladies have any ‘incriminating evidence’ that you’d be willing to part with?” he asked. “I know it’s less money, but I think it’s worth the sacrifice.”

“Sacrifice, my ass,” Dixie said. She went over the to the bags of sculptures that had yet to be unpacked and collected the two bags they had set aside. They contained the broken sculptures. “We ain’t losin’ a dime over this.” She swung them underhanded towards Southern. They slid across the floor and into his support column and let out another broken clatter on impact.

Southern looked up at Dixie miserably.

“Don’ look at me like that,” she said, sneering. “You play dumb games, you win dumb prizes.”

“We’ll call the cops on him once we get this stuff in the truck and on the way,” Nero said. “I’m sure they’ll be real happy to see him since someone strangled a cop on his way out of the police van.”

“Wow, how’d ya do that?” Dixie asked.

“If they’re fool enough to cuff you in the front, what they’ve really done is given you a garrote,” Nero said, demonstrating how one might loop their bound hands over someone’s head and strangle them from behind.

Dixie watched this pantomime and nodded her approval.

Cleo and Dixie are at a safehouse with another Syndicate member just after a job. Their fourth guy isn’t there because he got shot down by a police sniper. Or rather, that’s what C and D were told by the other guy. But the 4th guy bursts through the door, and he looks LIVID at the third guy.

Also, I’d like to pitch the Syndicate guy’s names this time. How about: Serpent for the guy our gals get to the safehouse with, and Nero for the guy who came back?

– Paupers Run


The EscapeModule

So the clip key is based on the Tiny Inconspicuous Handcuff Key or TIHK. And while I was checkin’ to see if this company still existed, I found that not only do they still exist, but they have more products now. Including this one which inspired this story.

“Hey Cleo! Look at this.”

Dixie ran a search for the tiny handcuff key that Nero had mentioned and found the website of the company that made them. And they had other products as well.

Dixie showed Cleo her phone’s screen. It’s screen showed a product that looked like a bullet vibrator. However, instead of a tiny battery-operated motor, it contained four lock picks, a “bend to fit” tension wrench, the clip key, two different kinds of lock shims, a Kevlar saw, a diamond rod saw, a ferrocerium fire rod, three waxed jute fire starters, and a ceramic razor blade.

“‘If your occupation or recreation takes you into dangerous situations’,” Dixie read aloud, “‘you’ll want to have an EscapeModule on hand… or wherever you can keep it hidden. Just 3.2″ long, this tiny o-ring sealed module houses lifesaving escape and survival tools.'”

“Apparently, you can use the casing as a flint too,” Cleo noted.

“Sounds like it depends on ‘wherever you keep it hidden’,” Dixie said. She read on. “‘Included in this order (but not fitting inside the module) is a small petrolatum packet for just about any survival use you can imagine.’ Hmmmmmmm, it sure is weird how the lube doesn’t fit inside the thing. Where do they expect you to keep it?” Dixie said, playing dumb.

“Yes, I do love how deftly the copy dances around that,” Cleo chuckled. “Are you going to buy it then?” she teased.

“I gotta be honest,” Dixie said. “I’m-a two minds about it. On the one hand, am I gonna walk around with this thing in just in case? No. It probably sets off metal detectors. But you know if you ever get in a situation where this’d be handy…”

“You’ll be thinking to yourself ‘If only’ the whole time,” Cleo said, trailing off into a peal of chortles.

“Yeeesss!” Dixie said, dragging her hands down her face in hysterical acknowledgement of their newly amended reality. She recovered and added, “Plus, being able to say you’re going to pull an escape plan out of your ass and then literally follow through? That’s comedy gold, right there.”


Laser Locks

No prompt; just ’cause.

“Okay, you’re good. Go!”

Summer pulled the plastic cap off the bottom of her boot heel and let her pocket knife fall out of the hollow into her hand. Pulling out the Phillips screwdriver bit, she set to work unscrewing the battery panel of the Laser Lock on some hapless kid’s locker.

In this post Columbine world, being caught with a weapon on school property – even one as dull and useless as the blade in her pocket knife – had ridiculous consequences. So Desi, her best friend, was keeping guard at the door to the outdoor halls. They weren’t supposed to be in the hall this early either, but getting caught in the building before the first bell was an infraction they – especially Desi, as a straight A student – could talk their way out of.

Summer had a good thing going with these Laser Locks. The infomercial for them started airing earlier that year. In it, kids pointed their little color-coordinated remote controls at the Laser Locks on their lockers and the locks popped open instantly, no combinations or keys needed. Having a Laser Lock shaved valuable seconds off a mid-day locker trip that might otherwise make it impossible to get across campus in the five minutes given before the bell rang, earning one an inordinately high punishment for tardiness. Or it would, if Summer didn’t steal the batteries from these locks.

“You know, I’m gonna miss this when you go off to college,” Summer said as she twisted the screwdriver. Desi had been accepted to Turnbroke University. Summer didn’t know much about colleges, since she’d never planned to attend herself, but she knew it was one of those fancy-ass schools that impressed people when you said you went there. “I’m gonna have to find a new lookout.”

Desi huffed and checked the window again.

“I’m not going anywhere. I can’t afford it and it was a waste of money for my mom to apply. I’m just gonna do community college here.”

“That’s bullshit,” Summer said. “You can get scholarships.”

“Not enough to go to Turnbroke.”

Summer rolled her eyes. Desi always was a pessimist.

Panel off, the batteries inside fell out into Summer’s waiting hand. She pulled a couple of dead batteries out of her skirt pocket and replaced the ones she was stealing. Then she screwed the panel back on. She’d put the stolen batteries in her CD player on the bus ride home that afternoon.

“Why d’you put dead batteries in there?” Desi asked. “To add insult to injury?”

“Nah. Without the dead batteries, they’d know as soon as they tried to open it that someone was stealing them because the lock would be too light,” Summer explained. She put her knife back in her boot heel and stomped her foot to secure the plastic cap back into place. “But if I put dead ones back in, then they just think the batteries died. And they’ll put new ones in that I can steal later when my CD player dies again.”


Small World

“All right,” Sable said. “Moment of truth.”

Cairo picked up the hotel phone, flipped the yellowed calling card over, and dialed the number she’d jotted down ten years ago. Sable leaned in close to hear since they weren’t going to risk putting the call on speaker and being overheard.

The phone rang once. Then again. Then the click of connection.

“Good morning, Miss Laurendeau’s residence,” a woman’s voice answered. Cairo knew this woman was definitely not Bijou. Bijou had a comically affected transatlantic accent. There was still a remote possibility that Bijou still lived there, if this woman was just answering her phone.

“Hello. May I speak to Bijou please?” Cairo chanced.

The woman on the other end was silent for a moment, then said, “May I ask who’s calling?”

“Oh, my apologies,” Cairo said, having forgotten to introduce herself before . “This is Cleo.”

“Cleo…?” the woman trailed, prompting for a last name.

“Just Cleo.”

“I see. May I put you on hold?” the woman asked.

“Yes, of course.”

They waited. A moment later, an older woman’s voice asked, “Hello? Bijou speaking.”

Sable nearly choked in surprise at how this woman just answered so readily to her codename, not knowing who was on the other end of the line.

“Uh, hello,” Cairo said, a bit startled herself. But this was Bijou. One did not forget a fake accent like that. “You may not remember me, but we met several years ago on a job. You gave me your calling card-”

“Oh, I never forget a face, darling,” Bijou said.

“It was pretty dark at the time,” Cairo said, positive that Bijou couldn’t possibly remember her.

“We met at Mimi Vanderhausen’s, correct? In 2009? We were… admiring her collection of Fabergé?”

Cairo leaned back and stared at the phone for a second. “You remember that?”

“Darling, you scared the hell out of me!” Bijou explained. “It’s not often I meet colleagues while I’m working. Let alone someone quite so imposing. I thought you were on Mimi’s security team until I saw you had a mask on too. So how have you been, dear? Are you still working with the Syndicate?”

“Actually, that’s why I called,” Cairo said. “My partner and I were thinking about leaving, striking out on our own. But we don’t really know anyone outside of the Syndicate. We were hoping you might be able to help us.”

“Oh dear,” Bijou sighed.

“Oh dear?” Cairo asked.

“I’ll help as much as I can, of course, but I definitely think you’re in for an uphill battle. There’s not a lot of unsigned talent left anymore.”

“Surely we can scare up two crewmates,” Cairo said. “We’re really more worried about finding a launderer for now. We’re sitting on a pretty big pile of dirty clothes and we don’t have anything to wear, if you understand me.”

“Hmmm. I don’t know any launderers personally, but perhaps my fence does- Actually, a marvelous thought has just occurred to me,” Bijou cooed. “Yesterday, he told me about this friend of his who’s just come off a long-term engagement too and is looking for work. You should see about meeting him.”

“Oh, uh, we’re really doing more of a feasibility study at this point, not conducting interviews,” Cairo tried to defer.

“Oh darling, you really must,” Bijou said. “You’re going to find that the world outside the Syndicate is very small. You’ll want to have as many options as possible if you want to have any hope of making this work.”

“I don’t know. I really would rather discuss the logistics before we get anyone else involved.”

“Trust me, you’ll want to meet him. He’s in Las Vegas right now for a car show. Go! You’ll have fun, take a nice little vacation before you start this new crew.” Sable perked up at the idea of going to Las Vegas. “In the meantime, I’ll speak with my fence and we’ll see who we can find with availability. After you speak with his friend, come up to New York and we’ll figure the rest out.”

Cairo didn’t think now was a good time for a vacation and she didn’t want to involve any more people in this conspiracy than was necessary. Sable watched Cairo’s face to see what she was thinking and didn’t like the conclusions she seemed to be reaching. Sable grabbed the notepad and the pen off the nightstand and scribbled out a note.

It’s my birthday next week.

She held the note up and did a seated we’re-going-to-Vegas shimmy because how could one argue with that?

One couldn’t and so Cairo relented, giving an annoyed nod, but she smirked when Sable hopped up from the bed and did a silent celebratory happy dance. At the very least, they’d be able to launder a little of the cash themselves through the casinos to fund a decent time.

“All right, we’ll go to meet this guy,” Cairo said into the phone.

“Fabulous!” Bijou said. “I’ll get the details and call you back.”

“Thank you so much for all your help, Bijou,” Cairo said.

“Think nothing of it, darling. I’m always happy to help someone get out of a bad contract.”

Cairo hung up the phone.

“Vegas, vegas, veeegas!” Sable sang as she did her Vegas dance.

“Yeah, yeah, yeah,” Cairo said in mock-annoyance. It was convenient though. She hadn’t actually known it was Sable’s birthday. They’d never exchanged gifts or acknowledged birthdays the whole time they’d been working together. Now that Cairo thought about it, it was sort of strange.

“How come you’ve never mentioned your birthday before?” Cairo asked.

Sable stopped dancing and stared at Cairo for a second before letting out a dismissive “pfft”.

“It wasn’t that big a deal in my family, that’s all,” Sable said. “Grew up poor, you know? We’d have cake and all, but it just wasn’t that different from any other day so I don’t think about it, I guess.”

“Well, what do you wanna do on your Las Vegas birthday vacation then?” Cairo said, getting out her cellphone. She ran a search for Las Vegas attractions. “Look, we could see some sort of male revue called Thunder Down Under. Oooh! Or – well, I know it’s your birthday, but maybe we could see The Titanic Exhibit too.”

“Hey, it’s a vacation for both of us,” Sable said. “If you wanna see something boring, we can see something boring.”

Either Cleo or Dixie suddenly discover that it is the other’s birthday. Maybe they make a ahem subtle mention of it because they’re expecting a gift, or maybe the info is gleaned accidentally. Regardless, a scramble ensues to throw something suitable together.

– Kit-Cat Clock


Gift Shop

No prompt, just an additional thought.

They were in the Titanic Exhibit gift shop. There were necklaces for sale, with pendants made from supposedly genuine pieces of coal brought up from the Titanic’s wreckage.

“That seems rather tasteless,” Cairo commented.

“That shit’s probably haunted,” Sable said.


The Indie Assumption

Things were going quite well, if Dixie said so herself. This was the first time she had applied to be lead on a job. It earned one a ten percent bonus for taking the responsibility of seeing that the score was delivered to the local Syndicate depot. The rest of her crew were out front sweeping loose diamonds off tables and displays and into duffel bags. The diamonds were small and of mediocre quality, but the sheer quantity of them would net a decent profit. Because things were going so well, Dixie was in the back office, cracking their wall safe. She didn’t expect to find anything worthwhile, but she had the time and cracking safes was what she did.

At the last tumbler falling into place, she turned the handle and yanked open the door. A stack of bills sat on top of some official looking papers. She snatched the bills out and put them in her jacket pocket: a tip on top of her lead bonus! This job was turning out real well.

Until the gunshots sounded out front.

It was not common to fire one’s gun during a Syndicate job after the initial civilian scare. Even if the police showed up, they usually did not interfere directly as it could endanger civilians. The occasional hero cop might try to thin a crew’s ranks with an opportunistic shot sometimes, but for the most part the agreement the Syndicate had with law enforcement kept gunplay to a minimum.

The shots fired out on the sales floor were therefore cause for concern. Dixie drew her revolver from its holster and peeked around the door frame.

Two of her crewmates, Selznick and Mallard, had with their weapons fixed on two other people in Guy Fawkes masks who were pointing their own guns at them. Her third crewmate, Fontaine, was curled up in a ball in the middle of this stand-off, whimpering, gasping for breath, and bleeding all over the floor. The three civilians lying in a neat row on the floor along the back wall shook in fear and hid their heads under their arms.

Dixie crept out of the office, staying low to sneak behind the display cases. Joining her crew out there would tip the scales in their favor over… whoever these guys were, but if she could manage to sneak up on the one who was standing closest…

What Dixie lacked in height and might, she made up for by carrying a massive firearm. The Ursa Striking Bear revolver was five pounds and ten inches of intimidation, a fact this V for Vendetta cosplayer realized when Dixie jammed its barrel into his back.

“Why don’t you set that gun down, sweetie?” Dixie said, prodding him with her own. “Nice and easy, don’t want it to go off.” He bent down slowly and set his assault rifle at his feet.

“Mallard, come get this,” Dixie said. Mallard came over to collect the weapon, never once taking his eyes or his own weapon off the other guy.

Once Mallard and her hostage’s weapon were out of reach and the odds were significantly back in the Syndicate agents’ favor, Dixie shoved her hostage. He stumbled and fell. She kept her gun pointed at him. When he turned over, she asked, “Are y’all… protesting the robbery?” She gestured around at the scene with her free hand. “The fuck is this?”

“These guys just burst in here and shot Fontaine,” Selznick said.

“Why’dya do that?” Dixie asked her hostage.

“We were gonna steal your take. Billy says it’s easy to steal from Syndicate crews ’cause they’re not real robbers.”

Dixie rolled her eyes. She figured that much.

“No, honey, why did you shoot Fontaine,” she clarified.

He seemed reluctant to answer so she pulled the hammer back on her revolver to convey her impatience.

“Billy always shoots a civilian first off,” he spat out. “So they know he’ll shoot any of them if they act up.”

“Shut up, Charlie!” Billy said, shifting his aim off Selznick and on to Dixie. Selznick jumped on the opportunity and fired his shotgun at Billy, hitting him in the gut. Billy reflexively fired his rifle as he fell, and the bullet clipped Dixie’s ear. Dixie’s hand darted up to hold her stinging ear and she swore loudly. Charlie saw the opening and made a motion to get up, but Dixie trained her gun back on him to get him to stay down.

Selznick darted forward and snatched up Billy’s rifle from where it lay next to him.

“Okay, good hustle, Selz-y, but one inch over and I would be dead,” Dixie pointed out.

“Sorry, ma’am,” Selznick said.

Dixie gingerly prodded her ear and hissed.

“God, there’s, like, a chunk missing. That’s gonna heal up pretty.” But no matter. “All right, you two,” she directed Selznick and Mallard, “Get Fontaine into the van. You,” she said, pointing at Charlie. “You are now in my crew.” She waved her gun at him in a pope-like blessing. “So start loading these bags in the van.”

“Or what?” Charlie said defiantly. It surprised Dixie, as Charlie had come off pretty passive this whole time. It was annoying, given the obviousness of Or What.

“Or I will shoot you,” she ground out, “and your buddy Billy there, and I won’t miss like Selznick did,” she said. “Chop chop, motherfucker.”

Charlie begrudgingly got up and picked up a pair of duffel bags. He followed behind the rest of the crew as they carried Fontaine as gently as they could.

Dixie huffed at the ceiling and reached up to poke at the missing chunk of her ear again.

Me again, this time seeing how one of the ladies handles without the other. Specifically, Dixie is hitting a diamond exchange with a crew of Syndicate randoms. But as they’re about to start, a non-Syndicate crew, starts their own robbery, and they’re definitely more vicious than Syndicate. You don’t have to make this before Dixie met Cleo, but definitely have her as MVP. Maybe getting shit on for credit in pulling the job through, but still.

– Paupers Run


Welcome to Idaho

No prompt.

“How long do you think it’ll be before they start lookin’ for us?” Sable asked. Cairo was driving, so Sable had her feet up on the dashboard and was eating Sour Punch Straws.

“I don’t expect that they will,” Cairo said. “As long as they never find out we’re working outside of the app, they should have no reason to think we haven’t merely retired.”

They drove along for a while in relative silence, save for Sable’s gooey chewing, the radio, and a beep every so often from the police radar detector, until Cairo’s face shifted into a pensive frown.

“Frenchy could be a problem,” she said.

“How?” Sable asked. She didn’t look up from the candy straw she was peeling apart from the rest in their plastic tray.

“It depends on what she knows. We don’t know when she disappeared or where she fucked off to.” Cairo considered the angles. “If she knows we took the money, she could report that it should be incoming.”

“Wouldn’ be in her interests though,” Sable said. “That was her job. Means she’d be responsible for making sure the money came in.”

“Logically, yes, but she might report the score to explain why we didn’t get the plates. If she does, she’ll be on the hook for the money, but it’ll also point the finger at us.”

“Should probably check if the reviews are in then,” Sable said. She reached down the floorboard to dig her phone out of her backpack purse. She flicked and swiped for a while, going through the newly pain-in-the-assened login procedure for the Hole-in-the-Wall app’s secret backend.

“I tell you what, if we end up leavin’, I ain’t gonna miss this shit,” Sable said. “You log in, and now they send a passcode in a text message and then you have to go back to the app and type – not paste! – but type the fuckin’ combination in. And it’s, like, twelve fuckin’ digits, so you gotta go back and look at it three times before you can get the whole thing in. And then you gotta hope like hell you didn’t mistype it or you’ll be startin’ all the way from the top.”

Cairo’s face scrunched up in empathetic frustration. She hadn’t tried to log in since the day of the bank robbery so she’d yet to contend with the new two-factor authentication that the app had patched in yesterday.

“Ugh, finally,” Sable said. “Reviews, reviews… Nothing from Mitty, obviously. We should report him dead.” Sable opened up his profile, tapped the Reporting Options button, and notified the app of his death. His profile photo reloaded with a black and white filter when Sable backed back out.

“Nothing from Frenchy yet either. Might as well rate each other up while we’re in here,” Sable said. “How did Cleo do? Five, of course.”

“You should at least take some points off for the utter mess I made in the lobby,” Cairo demurred. She had tried to aim below the waist to minimize causalities, but there was only so much care you could take when you were shooting buckshot.

“Pffft!” Sable scoffed. “I, for one, am happy to have less cops to deal with. And they started it anyway. They got exactly what they had comin’ to ’em, endangerin’ civvies like that. ‘Sides,” Sable said seriously, “if this whole thing with Bijou doesn’t pan out, we’re gonna want our ratings as high as possible. Lemme have your phone so I can give myself a five.”

Cairo reached into the breast pocket of her jacket and handed her phone over. After a few moments of frustrated cussing, Sable said, “There. Fresh fives. What do you want to rate Frenchy?”

“Let’s wait on reviewing her. Since we don’t know if she knows that we left with a score, we don’t want to tip our hand or give her a reason to downrate us. We’ll let her make the first move.”

Sable shrugged. “Fine. What about our no-show driver? Hopscotch.” Sable snorted at his codename. “Can we review him?”

“I don’t see why not.”

Sable brought up his profile on Cairo’s phone.

“Huh,” Sable said.

“What?” Cairo asked.

“Hopscotch here’s got almost a perfect rating. Four point nine.”

“That’s impossible. That has to be a mistake,” Cairo said. “There’s no one way anyone has a rating that high. Especially not a guy who flakes on jobs.”

Sable nibbled her lip. “What if he didn’t flake on the job?” she proposed. “What if somethin’ happened to him?”

“Such as?” Cairo scoffed.

“I dunno. Car accident?” Sable said. It’d be the most obvious thing.

“A four-point-nine driver got in a car accident?” Cairo reiterated to emphasize how absurd that was.

“He mighta had to drive through Mississippi on his way, who knows?” Sable shrugged. “I just can’t figure why a guy who had a score that good would fuck it up by not showin’ up. It might not-a been deliberate.”

“Maybe he thinks if his score is that good he can afford to ditch a job from time to time.”

Sable shook her head. “Nope. His reviews would say so if he was in the habit. Nothin’ but recommendations. Pfft!” Sable chuckled at one review in particular. “Well, this guy thinks he’s an asshole, but still said he’s a great driver.”

“I don’t care how great he was on everyone else’s job. He didn’t show up to ours so he gets a zero from me.”

“Yes, ma’am,” Sable said. She gave him the score and tapped the confirmation button. His rating went down to a 4.8. Sable set Cairo’s phone in the cup holder and went back to her own phone to give Hopscotch a zero from her own account. There was a new email notification on the lock screen.

Sable opened the email and read it. It was a scan of a hand-written letter from her old school friend, Desi. Sable used a mail forwarding service who would accept her mail and scan it just for Desi’s letters.

Sable frowned at the contents of the letter.

“Bad news?” Cairo asked.

“Desi says they started up some call center for a phone company and they’re taking him off farmwork detail to work there instead. He ain’t happy about it. And he’s up for parole soon too.” Sable exhaled and blew her bangs out of her face. “Gonna have to tell him not to get his hopes up.”

“Is the call center a pay raise at least?” Cairo asked, trying to find a bright side.

“They don’t pay inmates in Texas,” Sable said. She leaned her head on the window and stared out, mood soured by the news.

Cairo glanced over. That was no way to look when you were on your way to Las Vegas. Luckily, something to perk up Sable’s mood was peeking over the horizon.

“Look,” Cairo said when it came fully into view.

It was a simple blue sign with white letters.

Welcome to Idaho

“We’re not in Buttfuck, Montana anymore,” Cairo said. “Now we’re in Buttfuck, Idaho!” She checked the GPS. “Just seven hundred and seventy-eight more miles before we’re back to civilization.”


Rudolph

“I don’t know, man. I feel a little iffy about this job,” Savoy said. “But I can’t tell if it’s a gut feeling or if it’s just because working in places decorated for Christmas feels like a bad omen.”

“Bad omens? We got fuckin’ Rudolph up here guiding the sleigh tonight. There isn’t a better omen than that,” Nero smartassed.

“Wow, that’s an original fuckin’ joke,” their driver, the aforementioned Rudolph grumped. “Why don’t you tell one I ain’t heard a million times before?”

“Damn, Scrooge, who pissed in your porridge?” Nero asked. “I was just trying to lighten the mood.”

“Look, man, if I wanted to hear the same tired-ass joke over and over, I’d go back to working retail,” Rudolph said.

“It’s not even the reindeer, is it?” Braum asked to both commiserate and change the subject. In his experience, the codenames were almost never actually about the thing they seemed.

“Nope. Rudolph Valentino,” Rudolph said.

“Was your controller that woman with all the black and white pictures of movie stars in her office?” Selznick asked excitedly.

“Yep.”

“She was my controller too!” Selznick said. “Her office is wall-to-wall photos of old movie stars. It’s like the Brown Derby in there.”

“Yeah, she wanted to go with Sheik but it was too short, she said,” Rudolph explained. “And Valentino was too long. So now Christmas is way fun to work every year ’cause everyone thinks he’s the first guy to think up a smartass comment about the driver being named Rudolph.”

“Well, fuck, man, sorry,” Nero said in a way that belied that he had no sympathy at all for this salty son of a bitch. Dude needed to get some Christmas spirit.

A Syndicate fella that’s named Scrooge (based on McDuck, but crews don’t often figure that), and how he ironically hates taling jobs in December because of the constant jokes. Maybe have our friend Braum there to sympathize with names.

And here’s a twist… maybe no Dixie OR Cleo! I don’t know why, but I feel it’d be interesting to have other Syndicate members having gripes.

– Paupers Run


Political Theatre

Just as they had the score secured and everyone was seated on the escape boat, they heard someone call out to them from the end of the dock.

“Wait! Wait!” a man’s voice shouted to them. He ran towards them and everyone pointed their guns at him. He either didn’t see or didn’t care. He approached anyway, stopping at the edge of the dock. He doubled over, hands on his knees, and panted. After he caught his breath, he stood upright again.

His tie, mask, and gloves marked him as Syndicate agent too.

“Please,” he huffed, putting his hands up to show he was not planning to pull anything, “let me come with you. My crew’s all been arrested. I’ve been running from cops since 9:00.” It was now 11:35.

They had room on the boat; it wouldn’t have been a problem to let him board. Yet none of them lowered their weapons. Cleo, Dixie, and Melrose all looked to Dauphin. He was lead on this job so it was up to him if he wanted to take the risk.

“How do we know you’re not an undercover cop trying to get us all arrested too?” he asked.

“I’m not!” the man on the dock said. Panic rose up in his face. How could he disprove that?

“If you’re a Syndicate agent,” Cleo said, “show us your profile.”

Relief swept over his face. He reached into his back pocket and whipped out his phone. Unlocking it and swiping around for a moment, he turned the screen’s bright face to show them.

His codename was Vermouth. He had a 2.2 rating and he looked a lot less sweaty and harried in his profile picture.

“What do you think, Dauphin?” Melrose asked. Cleo and Dixie had lowered their weapons, but Melrose steadfastly pointed his shotgun at Vermouth.

Dauphin regarded the profile on the phone’s screen. It wasn’t that he didn’t believe Vermouth exactly. If he could make a decision without answering to anyone, he would’ve already let the poor guy on the boat. It was more that it was still possible for the police to fabricate a fake Syndicate profile and even if this guy was legit, Dauphin didn’t want to be known for taking risks with other agents’ freedom. The peer review system made the work so much more political than it needed to be.

“What’s the codeword?” he asked.

Vermouth scowled.

“There isn’t any codeword! Man, if you’re gonna leave me to go fuck myself, just say so already.”

“All right, get in,” Dauphin said.

“The fuck was that about?” Dixie asked, leaning over so Vermouth could climb over her into the boat.

“If he was a cop, he probably would have tried to guess the codeword or say he forgot it,” Dauphin explained. “But since he’s an agent, he knows there isn’t one.” There was still a remote possibility that Vermouth was a cop and just had a lucky guess, but Dauphin wouldn’t be getting any bad reviews for not attempting to check. Worst case scenario, if Vermouth did turn out to be an undercover cop after all of this, they could kill him and throw his body overboard.

“Clever,” Cleo said.

Vermouth flopped down in a seat next to Dixie and let out a heavy groan of relief. He leaned his head back and closed his eyes as the boat gently pulled away from the dock.

“Why didn’t you just take your mask and gloves off?” Dixie asked.

“What?”

“Why didn’t you just take your mask off, dude? The cops caint be hasslin’ everyone in a gray suit. That’s why they make us wear them.”

“I can take the mask off?” Vermouth said, bolting upright. “I didn’t know I could do that!”

“You’re supposed to do that,” Dixie said. “God, does no one read the fuckin’ manual?” Cleo snorted, amused at Dixie’s exasperation.

“I thought I wasn’t supposed to take off the mask. It’s part of the uniform.”

“Sure, not during the robbery, but afterward?” Dixie said. “I mean, this ain’t The fuckin’ Warriors, dude. You don’t have to wear your colors when you’re trying to hide.”

Thankfully for Vermouth’s pride, they were now leaving the marina. The boat increased speed and the water was choppy enough that everyone had to focus on staying seated rather than berating him for his inattention to protocol.

Cleo and Dixie are running to the escape boat (yeah, switching it up a bit) with their crew for the day. However, as the last guy’s getting in, some other Syndicate guy is running up begging them to let him in. For one reason or another, his crew left him behind, and now he’s gotta bum a ride or get arrested.

– Paupers Run


Nitriles, Part 2

“They’re still nitriles, what’s the fuckin’ difference?” Banshee complained. He crossed his arms obstinately.

“It creates a Mr. Black situation, Banshee,” Wintour explained with steely patience. “If you show up to a job wearing black nitriles when everyone else is wearing blue like they’re supposed to, then your crewmates get jealous of you and resentful of the uniform. Then all of three of those crewmates are going to show up to their next jobs wearing the wrong color gloves, which perpetuates the disruption in team morale. It creates a ripple effect that could lead to people trying to disregard the uniform entirely, which would in turn create problems with crews being recognizable as such to civilians. And if civilians cannot immediately recognize you as a Syndicate agent, they’re more likely to resist and interfere with your work which could lead to casualties.”

“Besides, the pattern on the tie was designed specifically to embrace the blue in the nitriles,” Wintour added. “Without that blue for it to draw on, you look like you can’t dress yourself. You may as well be out there wearing black shoes and a brown belt.”

A Syndicate guy, Banshee, is getting pissed at his controller for cutting into his money from his first job just because he had the wrong gloves on. Y’know, saying something like “They’re gloves, the fuck’s the difference?!”

The guy has material as an average robber. Somewhere between 2.7 and 3.2 on the app, so it’s not for lack of brains that he used different gloves.

– Paupers Run

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