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By:Amanda Lance

“You all right?”

I didn’t mean to make her uncomfortable, but obviously trying to be discreet bothered her, and she looked spooked. Her eyes got wide, and she frowned. I tried to think of a joke, but nothing was comin’ to me.

“You look like you’re gonna fall over,” I said.

“I—um, just seriously need coffee.”

I coulda been wrong, but I sort of thought with the way her voice was cracking that she was trying to sound tougher than she really was. And since girls who looked the way she did were usually all ’bout themselves, I let myself think that maybe she was tryin’ to sound that way ‘cause she thought I might like it. I did. She was all soft, though, like a doll or something, and that, and I liked that, too.

If it were up to me, I woulda spent the rest of the night just looking at her, but my phone rang, and it was another reminder of the kinda stuff I couldn’t have.

I barked into the phone. “What?”

I wasn’t sure, but I thought maybe I saw her ears perk up a little bit. Even though I was annoyed by Yuri’s panic, there was somethin’ about the possibility of her curiosity that kept me under control—like if a girl like her could be interested in a scab like me, then I should try harder to keep The Red in the cage.

“Charlie.” There was all kinds a swearing and carrying on in the background, and right away I knew I was right all along bout my bad feeling. “You need to get back here.”

“Yeah, I got it.”

I turned on my heel and headed for the nearest door, doing my best to blend in with the crowd and fit in with people who have all kinds of things but never seem to go nowhere. It didn’t matter who I ran into or who flipped me the bird as I passed, ’cause I knew I was the only one who could fix the trouble outside, but I also wanted to put as much distance between me and that mystery girl as possible.

I musta been outta my damn mind talking to a girl like that in the first place. Hell, she probably had some pretty boy beau making as much illegit money as me, somebody who would send her flowers and talk to her real nice—

I shook my head and tried to get rid of the picture of her in my head. It didn’t do a whole hell of a lot of good, but in the end it didn’t matter.

Chapter 2

There was even a line for the vending machines out front when I stepped out, a couple arguing in Spanish, some spoiled-ass kid begging his mom for more quarters…craziness on top of craziness. As bad as it was for my stomach, though, I knew it was real good for whatever trouble was going on in the back. If people were distracted with their own problems, then odds were low that they’d ever notice what looked like a simple cargo switch from a broken-down truck.

I kept my head low, walking to the side along with the rest of the pedestrians ’til I had the opportunity to break off and head to the bus parking lot. From there, it wasn’t hard to find where we were at, and right away I was glad I had brought my smoke with me.

The driver was on the pavement, blood spilling out in so many directions it was hard to tell where the original spot was. The second thing I saw was Yuri pushing Wallace against the truck bed while on the phone at the same time—I only assumed to Ben—and Polo mumbling to himself, trying to get the last of the cargo tied up on the SUV’s trailer by himself.

“What the hell is this?”

I was loud and I knew it, but it didn’t matter if we were as screwed as I thought. Almost all of the fluorescent lights overhead in the parking lot were functioning enough to show the blood pooling around the driver. It would only be a matter of time before someone saw something—if they hadn’t already.

“What happened?”

Wallace pushed Yuri away, and we kept ’nough distance when he drew his piece. Waving it around like some lunatic, he shouted at us:

“I’ll explain in the car! I gotta make sure nobody saw nothing—”

“No.” I gritted my teeth and reached for my own piece. “I’ll do it. You’ve done enough goddamn damage for one night!”

The driver moved a little, and Wallace lifted his gun one more time.

Yuri shook his head. “Hurry it the hell up.”

That’s when I heard it, like the coo of a bird or something, and I knew it even before I made a run for the back of the truck.

Somebody was there. Somebody saw something.

I edged along the truck that no longer had a driver, walking as slow and quiet as I could—something that I had never been real good at anyways. I could hear Yuri and Wallace going back to loading the truck, arguing back and forth, so hopefully whoever was there was focusing on that and not me sneaking up behind them. I took a few steps closer, cringing at the sound of my boots. There was a body lingering in the shadows there, though I only saw it from the lit up buttons of the cell phone it carried. If I didn’t hurry up, there would be cops there in a quick minute.