My heart was pounding. What the fuck was going on? First a face on one side, then a creepy as hell man on the other.
The guy was looking at us, head cocked to one side. He had glasses and a grey suit on, and looked to be in his forties or fifties, though it was hard to tell in the lighting. Maybe around my dad’s age.
I didn’t know what to do. Stay or run? He looked professional, but was acting incredibly weird. Before I could work up the courage to get out of there, or more like tell Claire and Ava to go since they were behind me, he continued speaking.
“You guys are our little thieves, right? Do you want to come into my office?” he asked, leaning forwards and against the wall.
He was much too close for comfort. I tried to back up, get a little personal space, but bumped up against Ava and Claire. The man smirked at my awkwardness. I glared at him.
I responded, “No, we don’t. Do you want the things we have?”
He looked disappointed at my refusal, but said, “I guess. I don’t get many visitors around here, sorry for the weirdness at the beginning. I thought I’d freak you guys out, but it’s no fun if you’re going to leave.”
I didn’t know what to say to that. One the one hand, I felt sorry for him, but on the other, he might be a serial rapist. He looked too professional for the part, but his acting was right on par.
Luckily, Ava cut in before I could formulate a response.
She said, “We’re sorry that you are stuck here all alone, but maybe if you didn’t act so creepy you’d have more people to talk to.”
I thought she’d nailed it. No reason to freak us out if all you want to do is talk.
He obviously got the message, and his frown grew.
“Okay, I understand. Can you give me the stuff you took? I’m Mr. Owens, by the way, but you can call me Joe,” he said glumly.
I wanted to get out of there. There wasn’t anything we could do for him.
I held out the bag, and he reached for it, but Claire spoke up first.
“I think we can come in and talk to you, right?”
She glanced at Ava and me. I looked to Ava skeptically. She shrugged. No help there. Well then, we were going to talk to the creepy man some more. Claire, who’d been so afraid before, now was positively eager. I wasn’t going to deny her this simple thing. No telling when she’d decide to grow a conscience like the other two, and not want to do the missions anymore. I needed some leverage, a reminder of something I did for her.
I told the man we’d come with him. His face lit up, and he turned and motioned for us to follow. As we weaved between columns and stacks of boxes, my apprehension grew. Every second it became darker, though my eyes were now mostly adjusted. I remembered that other face I’d seen, and every noise made me jump. It made sense if they were going to kill us or mug us or anything that they’d bring us farther into the warehouse. I thought of taking the knives out of my bag, but that would just alert them that I was onto their plan. If it, in fact, was a plan.
I’d just have to be cautious. We walked in silence, but soon got to a lit room. It was built into the structure, but there was a big window to look inside. It didn’t look like a torture chamber which was comforting. Mr. Owens held the door open for us, and I tentatively walked in, regretting ever agreeing to this.
Mr. Owens sat down behind the desk, while we each took one of the three chairs in front of it. My chair wasn’t very comfortable, and I was on edge, sitting up straight and alert.
He looked positively giddy, leaning forward, elbows on the desk.
“So I have a file on you guys, but I want to hear more about you from yourselves. Is that okay?”
“Uhh, why?” I asked. “If you have information on us, why ask us anything?”
His grin turned into a frown. “I don’t know everything about you, but I know the other member of your group of four is named Jacoby, and he decided to stay at home today because his brother recently passed away. I do know the same amount about either of you, but I want to talk. So, please talk. “
He looked so pitiful at that moment that I nodded reluctantly, and out of the corner of my eye saw Ava doing the same. He probably knew anything we were telling him anyway. Claire looked more excited than the both of us combined, so I let her go first.
“Well, I moved here after eighth grade, and was friends with Ava and Elie and Jacoby, our other partner in crime, right away. The first day of school, I was nervous. I was sitting in English class, surrounded by people talking to each other, not included in anything. I didn’t want to be looked at like only a smart person, like before, but I couldn’t stop myself from answering the questions. I answered something, some opinion, “wrongly”, and Ava and Elie jumped to my defense. And we became friends. But recently, well, my family…”
She glanced at us, then stood up and went over to the man, and whispered in his ear. He smiled at whatever she’d said to him. She looked pleased at that, and came back to her seat.
So Claire’s problem was something to do with her family? Huh, I’d have to figure that out later though, since Mr. Owens was talking again.
“… I wish I’d had better friends when I was in high school. I was a bit of a loner.”
Why was this man so depressing? He seemed like he didn’t have a cheerful bone in his body, except for whatever jollies he got from interacting with teenage girls. I thought I’d go next, because why the hell not?
“Well, I moved here after fifth grade,” I said. “I had an older brother named Rick. He was the smartest person in this whole fucked up town, but he graduated high school early and left, so fuck him.”
It made me uncomfortable to say that; it felt like heresy. I still felt muddled mix of apologetic and angry towards Rick.
I continued anyway. “I became friends with Ava and Jacoby right away after moving here; Jacoby was new that same year. He didn’t come with us to meet you since he has a weird aversion to stealing, thinks it’s wrong. I mean I do too, but not enough to not do it. High school is somehow is filled with more idiots than I realized existed, but at least I have these guys.”
I looked affectionately at Ava and Claire. A little flattery never hurt anyone. Ava rolled her eyes in response, but at least she smiled. Claire was still glowing, looking at the man.
He looked like he expected me to continue, but I was done. He turned to Ava.
“And what’s your story, pretty lady?”
Again, his creep factor was through the roof. He didn’t seem to realize the effect his words had. We all visibly recoiled every time he said something like that. I guess he was a new candidate for weirdest person I knew, but still not the winner by a long shot.
I turned towards Ava. She grimaced, but hid it quickly. Never an impression of negativity from her.
“Well, I’ve lived here my whole life,” she started. “I don’t know why Elie thought I was different enough to become friends with when she moved here, but I’m glad she did. She wasn’t as rebellious then as she is now, but she still had a contrary streak going. I’m pretty sure she’s broken some type of record by now. Whatever it was, we’ve been friends ever since. I don’t only hang out with these guys though.”
The man looked satisfied, like he was getting some sustenance out of our storytelling. Maybe he really was that lonely. That would suck.
Before the silence could fully set in, he said, “So, if you don’t mind me asking, whose house did you guys break into?”
Claire opened her mouth to answer, but before she could get anything out, the door behind us opened. I spun around, startled.
A man was standing in the doorway, wearing a white mask. He had on a black hoodie and sweatpants, almost our exact outfit from the night before. I checked his hands; no weapons. I still stood up, at the very least putting my chair between him and me. Ava did the same, while Claire yelped and ran behind the desk. Mr. Owens put a hand on her shoulder.
Before any of us moved more, the man stated in a monotone, “That is an unauthorized topic. Please cease and desist from that line of questioning Mr. Owen. You know you are out of line.”
Mr. Owen practically groveled, such was the urgency of his apologies.
He hurried out from behind the desk, hands alternatively clasped together and wiping his newly sweaty brow.
Then he said, tone exceedingly apologetic, “I’m sorry sir. Very very sorry. I simply forgot for a second. Please forgive me. I need this job, sir.”
The man in the doorway leaned against the wall, arms crossed. He started stroking his chin with one hand, as if thinking. I had no idea what was going on. The man was the same one from before, who was creeping around the warehouse when we came in. He must be the real company man. I’d already figured out that Mr. Owens was just another lackey, so this new information further validated that. They had to have a real person here to make sure everything went according to plan. This just made the organization as a whole seem even stranger and more mysterious.
The man who had burst in appeared to be done thinking.
He said grudgingly, “This one slip up will be forgotten, and will not be reported to your superiors. Make no mistake though, we are watching you. We will know if you do anything like this again. You will be fired, if such an act is discovered. Good day to you all.”
He left as quickly as he’d came. We sat back down in our seats, but I was itching to get out of there even more than before. Mr. Owens was clearly shaken by the interruption, and didn’t appear to be able to think of anything else to pester us about.
After maybe thirty seconds of silence, I stood up again.
I said to Mr. Owens, “We’re going to be going now. Goodbye. We’ll see you the next time we make a delivery. Here’s the backpack, this has all the stuff we stole in it.” I then turned to Ava and Claire, and said, “Come on, let’s go.”
They both stood up. Ava said a quick goodbye to Mr. Owens. She got a little freaked by disciplinary authority figures, as the man who’d appeared in the doorway seemed to be. Claire, on the other hand, didn’t seem to be affected by that. She hesitated for a second, then went over to Mr. Owens and hugged him, again whispering in his ear.
He showed us out, and we left. The building looked non-descript when we were again on the outside. I was simply glad we’d made it out okay; the place freaked me out even more than before we’d gone in.
We walked together, no one speaking, all of us stuck in our thoughts. I looked at my watch; only 12:30. There was still half a day left. I didn’t have anything to do, except for some homework.
I’d have gym tomorrow. That depressed me. I was dealing with a shadowy organization, with breaking into people’s houses, and yet I couldn’t deal with a bunch of bullies in gym class. That was a problem. I didn’t want to fight back; after Janine’s comment supported my hypothesis, namely that Emma had a secret crush on me and sucked at flirting, I’d felt more pity for her than anything. She sucked at romance, just like her friends. Except maybe Maya, who at least looked pretty.
I still dreaded it. Just because I thought it wasn’t malicious now, didn’t make it any more bearable. That was another thing I tried to make myself do: have only the actions affect me, not the motivation behind them. Why she was a pain in my ass didn’t matter, she still did what she did.
Janine, no matter how annoying she was in class, wasn’t as bad in gym. She acted like a bitch to everyone there, because she was better than them. She acted like a bitch toward me because I was better than her. She was athletic though… If I had half an ounce of trust in her I’d be tempted to try to get her to join us. I didn’t want to get ahead of myself though. Further recruitment depended on how much we got paid, and whether we actually needed more people, like if they told us to rob a mansion or a bank.
The exciting futures ahead made me perk up, and when we split up, I went home feeling happy. School wouldn’t be too bad, and we’d get paid tomorrow.