When I opened the door of my house, my parents ambushed me, like usual. They were clearly over their silent treatment that they’d done because I was grounded. The questions came in rapid fire, including a ridiculous number of clarifications on the content and quality of each class, mostly from my mom. My dad predominantly threw in unnecessary comments about my attitude.
Normally I’d have gotten pissed at them and escaped to my room, but today I had something I needed downstairs, so I’d have to endure. I edged into the living room while carrying on a Q & A session with my mom, eyeing the coffee table that usually held the mail.
I stood in front of the table when I got there, not wanting it to be obvious that I was expecting something. My mom eventually stopped nagging me, and I was free to sort through the stack to my heart’s content.
I didn’t find anything with an initial search. Then I went back through the pile. Nothing again.
The organization we’d been contacted by wouldn’t betray us or scam us, like that. I knew they wouldn’t. There was too much involved at this point: the letters, the sheet signal, the drop off building with Mr. Owens and the creepy mask man.
No matter how strong my belief, I was still disheartened when I didn’t find anything in the stack of envelopes and catalogues. After a fifth time rifling through it, I finally gave up, disappointed. How could there not be a letter for me?
I picked up my backpack from where I’d dropped it, and slowly trudged upstairs. The day was bad as a whole, and I’d been hoping for this one thing as a pick-me-up. I guessed it was reasonable the letter could come tomorrow, but it didn’t seem likely.
When I got to my room, the sun had started setting, so I turned the light on. My bed looked inviting, and I thought about a short afternoon nap, but vetoed the idea almost immediately. Even without the letter, I could still plan another mission. Hell, I could fake a letter and everything and get my friends involved. Problem was I couldn’t fake the payment for this past mission, so that plan wouldn’t work.
I walked over to my desk, ready to analyze and think about how we’d failed the last time. Just the thought of trying again, of improving, brightened my mood enough that I wasn’t completely depressed.
I pulled my chair back and sat down. It wasn’t comfortable; all the furniture in my room was childish white wood, relics of a much younger me. No idea why there weren’t cushions.
The desk was cluttered with random papers, both school related and not. Most of it was random junk, but there was also a to-do list, on which there wasn’t anything to do with school. If I’d had school shit on there the page would have been overflowing. Right now it just had ‘deliver money to friends’, and ‘find out what is up with Claire’. I couldn’t think of anything to add, but I hadn’t finished either of those things either.
I was reaching for an empty sheet of paper when I saw an envelope sitting on the corner of my desk. My spirits skyrocketed instantly, and I broke into a huge grin. This had to be the letter!
It was addressed to me in the same style as the first two. I uttered a silent prayer of thanks that they hadn’t put a return address on there; that would have raised my parents’ suspicions. I knew there would be problems with that in the future, but it would be nice to hold them off for as long as possible.
I hesitated, not wanting to rip the letter open immediately. It was somewhat thicker than a normal one, but you couldn’t tell by the shape that money was inside; another thing to be grateful for in regards to my parents.
I settled for going over to my bed, so I could lay everything out better. I smoothed down my comforter, which had a silly blue cat pattern on it. At least it was monotone enough that I wouldn’t lose any fragments of the envelope, or bills, in it.
I’d kept the other two letters, every scrap they’d sent me, in a drawer of my bedside table. I wasn’t going to stop now. Sometime when I was old and bored, wishing my life was as thrilling as it was now, I’d look at everything and be nostalgic.
Now, I’d have fun.
I slipped a single finger in between the outer flap and the main body of the envelope, then carefully ripped it. I didn’t want to damage anything inside. I tried to ignore the sensory feedback my finger was sending me; I didn’t want either confirmation or denial that it contained money until I actually saw it.
The top fully open, I ceremoniously upended the body of the envelope, and out spilled out one piece of paper, and numerous twenty dollar bills.
I stood up, and checked to make sure my door was shut. It was.
I pumped my fists in the air, barely able to vocally limit my exuberance to a muffled yell. I’d believed, but I hadn’t dared to hope. Now we got our reward for our hard work.
After a minute of happiness, I’d calmed down enough that curiosity got the better of me. I didn’t want to see how much they’d sent, so I read the letter instead, leaving the pile of green untouched.
Our contact Elie;
We are, for the most part, pleased with the outcome of your mission you undertook on our behalf. You and your friends didn’t get caught, which is always the most important result. Many of the things you attempted took skill, especially the last second escape, and we applaud your efforts and success in these areas. You and your crew look to have a bright future ahead of you.
Now, in regards to what we actually contracted you for, the stealing, we found your performance lacking. We did not ask you to break into a house, cause a commotion, and then escape. We asked you to burglarize someone’s house. That means we wanted you to take as much as you could, the most valuable things you could find, in as short a time possible. Again, we want to reiterate that your safety in regards to the law is the most important aspect of a success, and that came out positive. The slightly secondary aspect, the taking of things, was what we found lacking.
You delivered to our man Mr. Owens: one cordless phone, valued at approximately seventy-five dollars; one painting, valued at two hundred dollars; one Nintendo Wii, valued at approximately two hundred and fifty dollars; and a mouse and keyboard, valued around 50 dollars together.
In short, you underperformed. This was a dismal showing, and the goods you brought in were simply not up to the standards that we require from you. That means you are on a short leash for future missions. If you don’t acquire at least one thousand dollars’ worth of goods next time, then we may have to terminate your contract.
Again, we appreciate your efforts, especially the escape through the basement window. That was skillful, and the tactics to get out of the general area also were an example of your teams’ talent. Make sure to keep them on your side.
Finally, we promised compensation for the work you have done. In addition to the $2000 signing bonus that is currently in a bank account we set up for you, we sent in this envelope $1600 in cash. This is purely payment for the individual mission. This amount was chosen based partially on the value of the goods you stole, and partially on the fact that there are four members, including you, on your team. This means that you can divide the proceeds evenly.
We have included a map of potential locations for your next mission. Please have it carried out by next Sunday. Keep in mind what we said about the value.
All the best,
Right Man Industries
The letter left me feeling conflicted. I didn’t know how to feel. On one hand, I was glad we’d been paid, but being criticized left an ugly mar on the whole ordeal. I had known back then that we hadn’t taken very much, which had just been reaffirmed.
The thing was, we couldn’t have taken the computer even if I hadn’t broken it and we’d gotten it out the window. It was too heavy to run with, and too suspicious to just carry down the street. Computers and jewelry, if I could get Jacoby, our conscience to acquiesce to the latter, would increase our total money value next time.
The distinctive smell of the money wafted into my nose, borne on the breeze from the cracked open window, which quickly banished my slight disappointment. It was all twenty dollar bills, for which I was thankful. Much easier to spend. I thought for a second about lying about how much they’d sent, but quickly dismissed the idea.
Ava, Claire, and Jacoby deserved the money. They deserved it just as much as I did. They’d worked just as hard, and even though they questioned it at times, they’d come through when it most mattered. I needed to be able to count on them for future missions too. Thinking of all they’d done, I was insanely glad I had them. If they hadn’t joined me I would have been caught, plain and simple.
So I pulled out 20 of the twenties, put five in my wallet, and stuck the other fifteen under my light on my bedside table. Not necessarily the safest place, but one I’d remember, and one someone wouldn’t search automatically.
Looking down at the pile on the bed again, it really seemed like a lot of money. Eighty bills in total. Well, sixty, now that I’d taken a quarter for myself.
Giving the rest to them at school might be hard, but arranging a meet-up after school would be a hassle as well. I still wasn’t sure how Jacoby was feeling about the whole situation. He was unsettled enough that he didn’t want to go with us to visit the drop off site, but he’d agreed to the next mission. No one could resist money either, but it would be easier if I shoved it on him in school, somewhere where he had to grab it or risk it being seen, than if I waited until we were at his house. He might be madder about it, but the other way was more likely to lead to a long lasting disagreement. I needed to avoid that at all costs.
Ava and Claire wouldn’t mind too much either way, I was sure. Ava might be slightly pissed I’d risked someone catching us by doing the hand over in public, but that was worth the lessened chance of another argument with Jacoby.
Now that I’d settled what to do with the money, I could think more about the most recent letter. It slightly freaked me out that they knew what we’d stolen. It freaked me out a lot that they knew the details of our mission, including our escape.
Given the quarantine, especially the cutting off of cell phone and internet services, they shouldn’t have been able to know either of those. I supposed they had a satellite phone or something similar, or some other technology that was able to get through, which was how they knew what we’d stole. That made sense, even if I was jealous.
What was much more unsettling was the implication that they’d been spying on us while we’d broken into the house. That meant they probably had video of it, proof we’d done something, since a person outside the city had analyzed our actions. It was much more damaging than them having copies of the letters or of us meeting with Mr. Owens. Since I hadn’t sent letters back their letters didn’t necessarily mean anything. The meeting with Mr. Owens wasn’t us actually doing anything. A video of the break in was another story. If they had filmed our whole trip, they would have caught us with our masks off.
I supposed it wouldn’t be that difficult for them to have filmed us, but it was still creepy. Hell, we’d changed right before we’d broken into the house. If they had any decency they wouldn’t have filmed or kept that, but if they employed someone like Mr. Owens, I wouldn’t put anything past them.
I immediately decided not to tell the other three about the specifics of the letter, namely the compliments about parts of our execution of the mission.
As much as I wanted to talk this problem over with someone, I knew it’d just make it worse if I talked with Ava or Claire or Jacoby. They would all worry, even Claire. Though she’d been much more forward and willing to take risks, I knew if I was freaked out by this, she’d be at least doubly so. Secrets, though treacherous, were sometimes necessary.
Alone, I didn’t have any idea what to do to avoid them watching or filming us next time. I decided to keep an eye out on our next mission, but it was dark. Now I saw how that could be a disadvantage as well as an advantage. If they were as good and professional as the letters indicated, I wouldn’t be able to find them.
So I put that problem to the side.
The good news was that the organization was at least semi-legitimate, in the sense that they were going to pay up. I briefly thought of the possibility of fake money, but it had looked real to me. That meant nothing, but we wouldn’t be making any huge purchases probably. Department stores wouldn’t check a seemingly normal looking bill when we were still there, so I didn’t worry too much about that hypothetical. Anyways, we could just say we didn’t know where the money came from.
I thought for a second about the contractors’ potential motivations, but didn’t really have anything to go on there. They could be a gang or something, other people inside the city with outside contacts and a way to communicate, using us to do some dirty work, or people on the outside with a new or old interest in the town. With how little information I had, this was something it was better not to worry about. For now, it didn’t matter too much, as long as we got paid. Which we had.
Next up on my mental list was Claire. I set that one aside for later, after I had a talk with her. Given that she was enthusiastic about the stealing, she probably either had a newfound need for money, or she was a closet kleptomaniac excited to finally act on her urges. I thought the first was much more likely, given that we hadn’t yet taken anything when her enthusiasm emerged. Her weird connection and closeness with Mr. Owens was another deal entirely. That could again be related to the money, or she could just have a thing for middle aged men. Hey, I wasn’t going to judge. Whatever made you happy.
I’d been thinking so much about the thievery that the events of the school day had slipped my mind. It was the thought about weird preferences, Claire maybe having a thing for old men, which made me think of Mr. Parr, then Janine.
The stuff in History and then Gym was completely unexpected. She had been the same stuck up bitch since I’d met her. She seemed to be just like everyone else here, not that I’d actually talked to her in private.
The extent of my interaction with her was listening to boys fall all over her, listening to her prattle on idiotically in class, and listening to her say she was going to beat me in Gym before getting her ass kicked. Oh, and also seeing her be very physically attractive, constantly. That was the only thing that made her physical presence bearable.
Today we’d actually agreed on something without fighting. I didn’t know if she’d disliked me as much as I’d disliked her before today, but I wouldn’t have been surprised. I hadn’t been the nicest to her, miming and mocking her both behind her back and in front of it. I’d thought she deserved it, and still did think so, at least mostly. When someone acted that way, maybe they’d stop if other people showed them how dumb it was.
That was why I was so shocked when she’d stuck up for me. It wasn’t something too major, but arguing on the same side was a big step for us. Then talking to her afterward had been nice. She got it, so much more than everyone else here. So I’d like to do that again. Even if it was strange to talk to her, it was another bit of sanity added to my day.
The thing troubling me was the locker room. First she’d somehow gotten everyone else to leave and probably saved me from more harassment by Emma. But then she’d rejected me when I’d make a move on her.
These two actions didn’t seem to align very well. The first, if how she’d startled me then left her hands on my waist was factored in, seemed to indicate that she wanted to do something with me. At least I didn’t know of anyone who would do that without wanting to, or at least not minding, at least a subsequent make out session if not more.
Then she’d pulled back from my kiss and didn’t want to do more. But she still wanted to keep up the improvement in relations between us. I didn’t get it. Maybe I was missing something obvious, but I saw an incongruence between the two things she did in the locker room.
When I thought about it, I’d kissed Janine because she was hot and because that’s what I thought she wanted. Since she flat out said she didn’t want to in the future, I wouldn’t do it again. It was just lust, and if it wasn’t mutual, then nothing would happen. I wasn’t obsessed with her or anything.
So more questions were raised than answered about the company by their letter, though at least they paid up. I had a plan for how to get the money to Ava, Claire, and Jacoby. I still had no idea what was up with Claire. Janine was an enigma, but at least I knew what to do going forward with her. All in all, things were looking up.