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Yeah, maybe MVP wasn't quite the right word. I didn't mean like "single-handedly saves the job", but did a splash more than the randoms.

Maybe that happens, but the crew downplays it more in their reviews of her. Something more like that.
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.

So I am still working on this, but I thought you might like to know a little about why it's taking so long. You've actually kinda given me a bit of a challenge here.

See, one of the things I try to be mindful of in my stories is not to let any one character come off Too Cool for School. Remember how when John Wick was announced for the PAYDAY roster, and the copy had Chains practically shaking in his non-slip shoes over trying to get Wick (who is supposedly an old friend with whom he has a rapport) to wear a proper mask, as opposed to the selection of sunglasses he never wears in the movie? Or how Hoxton was written from Crimefest '14 through the Housewarming update, when people finally started to backlash against his characterization? Where he was the sassiest sumbitch on the crew, and also had most of the good ideas, and also just took it upon himself to burn the safehouse down but no one minded because that was one of Hoxton's good ideas and Hoxton is so so so cool anyway that he gets away with being a jerk-ass to everyone, and now that he's called in his vast estate of resources he's also responsible for all the good things the crew has?

That kind of shit comes off like a 12-year-old boy wrote it.

Usually, the way I avoid this is to break up all the cool points among characters. You'll still get some disproportion due to characterization (Cairo is a lot more cerebral than Sable is, for example, so she gets fewer one-liners but is responsible for more crafty idears), but in general, doing this makes for a fairly even distribution of Coolness so that no one is coming off as the Hoxton on the crew.

That becomes harder, though, when one character is explicitly supposed to be MVP and also when the rest of the crew are filler characters.

I'm not saying I can't do it ('cause I can). Just that it's a fine line to walk and it requires a little more finesse than most of what I've done so far, 'cause most of my usual avenues of egress are not present in this prompt.
Also this.

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.
So like, I have chosen to kind of weave the birthday thing into what I was gonna do anyway so this isn't the full extent of where I'm going with that yet, but here, look. We're actually proceeding in the plot!

I am working on yours, Paupers Run.

"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 . "My name 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. "Wow, 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 looking away.

"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 wasn't that different from any other day. So I just don't think about it, I guess."

"Oh." Clearly a change of subject was in order. "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."

The Titanic Exhibit is NOT boring, just fyi.
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.
It'd have to be pretty early in the timeline because as the Syndicate gets larger, there are fewer and fewer indie crews out there.

Have this in the meantime. Babby Sable.

"Okay, you're good. Go!"

Summer pulled the plastic cap off the heel of her boot and let her pocket knife fell out of the hollow into her hand. Peeling out the Phillips screwdriver bit, she set to work unscrewing the battery panel of a 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. It 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 prey on 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."
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.
Cleo would dock him .5 for getting zibbity-zapped in the first place (crowd control needs to be aware of their surroundings after all) but would give him high praise in the review for his resourcefulness and preparedness. Dixie would give him the full 5 for not only escaping police custody on his own but also for coming back to see to it that this guy wouldn't be out fucking other agents over in the future.
Ooh, now I'm wondering how Nero's review is gonna go.
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?

Serpent's too on the nose for a guy like this, but Nero I can work with.

The mood was always somber when they came back from a job without a crewmate.

Everything had been going fine, tripped alarm notwithstanding. Cleo and Dixie had a decent assembly line going. Cleo was bagging up sculptures and then tossing the bags to Dixie, who in turn tossed them into 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, looking back into the lobby. If he were only injured, they had a responsibility to make an attempt to get him out of the scene.

"Positive," Southern said, climbing into the back of the van. "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."

Cleo and Dixie didn't need to be told twice. Cleo zipped up the last bag, threw it to Dixie, 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 was a reminder to the rest of them that they need to be vigilant about their surroundings. It killed the jubilation that should have come with a score so big as to be swimming in duffel bags.

Of course, the post-robbery workload of such a large score contributed to the dampened mood too. They had stolen 27 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 the boxes.

"You know," he said, breaking the silence, "it's not all bad. The take will be split into 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 packing. Cleo spied on him over her clipboard, watching his expression. He looked a little 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. It could be the police, especially if Southern had killed one of them. There was a tacit agreement between the Syndicate and law enforcement, but killing each other made the terms hazy. The locals often took it personally.

The sound of footsteps approaching thudded through the walls. Dixie was the only one of them still carrying her weapon. She slowly hovered her hand over her revolver. They all watched the door.

The knob jiggled, but didn't open. When they arrived, they found it 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. Then 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. 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 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 moved to loom over him, to look more imposing. "You thought if you let him get arrested, you'd make more money."

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 said. Then he 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.

"0.1" Dixie finalized.

"0.1" Cleo concurred. "I assume you'll be giving him a 0.1 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 whole profession."

"Well, you can have it quick," Dixie said, straightening her aim, "or Nero can kick you to death." Southern's eyes widened in terror. "Your choice, sugar," she said to Nero.

"I have a better idea," Nero said. He reached down for the handcuffs he'd thrown at Southern. He picked a tiny object off his belt and used it to unlock the cuffs.

"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 little clasp, so it could be clipped to clothing. "I never leave home without it." He clipped it to his belt loop and turned his attention back to Southern.

Grabbing him by the hands, Nero dragged Southern's slack body over to a support column. Propping Southern up against the column, he handcuffed the man 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 said, plopping the bags down next to Southern. He 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.

"Well, if they're foolish 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.

"I feel like I've learned a lot today," she mused aloud.

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 googled the tiny handcuff key that Nero had mentioned and found the website that made them. And they had other products as well.

Dixie showed Cleo 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 handcuff 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," 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 love how deftly the copy dances around what it's for," 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 a dead bullet vibe in just in case? No. It probably sets off metal detectors. But ya know if ya 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 actually follow through? That's comedy gold, right there."
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