Dad moved us into a cramped studio apartment on the fifth floor of the Cedar Dove apartment complex when he accepted his newest job opportunity. We’d made the drive, only two states over, packing our measly belongings into three suitcases before hitting the road. But that’s how we lived, out of suitcases, never putting down roots. Dad’s a rep for a pharmaceutical company. He trains hospital staff about new drugs and once he’s done, he’s stationed at a new hospital. He loves it, he calls our life an adventure. People must be jealous of all the places we’ve been, all the things we’ve seen, he’d tell me.
He comes home to find me sprawled on the couch that came with the apartment, flipping through channels on the small t.v. I watch his hands, he holds a small array of post cards. He’s always done this, collecting a post card from each place we visit and tucking it neatly in a small scrapbook. It’s always seemed like some sort of bread crumb trail to me. If we ever go missing, people will know the last place we were. I turn my attention glumly back to the t.v.
I hear the sound papers make when they brush together and know he’s flipping through the cards, picking the right one worthy enough for the scrapbook.
“How’d school go today?” Dad asks.
I shrug, though the movement is hidden by my loose fitting hoodie. “Fine.”
“Your tone says otherwise.” He sets the cards on the table near the door and crosses the room, taking a seat next to me. “Are you having trouble again?”
I chuckle at his phrasing, trouble. “Nothing I haven’t dealt with before.”
Dad clasps his hands together in his lap. “I could make a call…”
I sit up quickly. “Don’t do that, please. I’m fine.” His expression is unappeased, so I continue. “We’ll be gone in a few weeks anyway.”
The concern flickering in his eyes fades before he nods his head. “Alright, then.”
“I’m gunna hit the hay, early day tomorrow,” I say, retreating hastily from the room.
He watches me go, closing my bedroom door and even then I still feel him staring. I pull a bottle off my dresser and shake a couple of pills into my palm before swallowing them down dry. The only good thing about my dad’s job is I get great drugs.
I’m out like a light in two minutes flat.
It had taken the footballers of Cedar High School just half a week to discover the new kid and about fifteen minutes to make him feel welcome. Unfortunately by welcome I mean upend in the nearest dumpster. Did I mention the new kid is me?
Dumpsters smell like sour milk and mothballs and battery acid. The smell mingles in your mouth and stays there, especially when it’s constantly reintroduced. The only way I’ve found to get rid of it is cigarettes. The taste of dirt does wonders.
To say that bullies’ tactics are cliché would be an understatement. At this point, I would find it refreshing for some dumb jock to steal my gym clothes or give me a swirly. But no. Dumpsters are all I get.
It’s usually the footballers who like to upend me, but depending on the school, it could be the lacrosse team, or the basketball team, even the theater kids. I’ll admit, that one was a surprise, but at a school for performing arts, someone’s got to be on top.
I find myself leaning against the cool stone façade of my current high school, popping a cigarette between my lips and lighting it. I blow the smoke out through my nostrils and shrug my satchel into a more comfortable position across my shoulder.
A group of footballers sashay across the front lawn, several of them looking familiar. Sniveling idiots with leather on their shoulders and rocks in their heads. They cast me wry glances before turning toe in my direction. Luckily, the first bell rings and they decide against whatever they were going to do, chuckling as they head inside.
I can’t help the eye roll that happens as I take one last puff and crush the butt beneath my shoe.
Week two has given me enough time to memorize my schedule, my teachers’ names, and my locker combination. I haven’t bothered to make any friends, there’s no point. I spend lunch roaming the hallways, turkey sandwich in hand. A display case catches my eye and I notice it celebrates the Cedar Baron’s winning streak. The football team’s trophies and awards dazzle under the small fluorescent lights above, but those aren’t what concern me. Mounted in the middle of the showcase is a team photo. The name plate beneath gives away my tormenters’ names. Tad Drake, quarterback, Dillion Powell, receiver, Franklin Weal, Line man. I narrow my eyes at Tad Drake’s glowing face in the photo.
A girl trips over my foot and curses at me as she hurries down the hall. I don’t even have time to apologize as she’s fifteen feet away by the time I register what happened. The bell rings and I throw the remaining half of my sandwich into the nearest trashcan before heading to science class.
The remainder of the day goes by without incident. Kids swarm the hallways, slamming lockers and buzzing about homework. I shove textbooks into my satchel and retreat from the building, using the chaos as my own cloak of invisibility from Tad and company. Feeling safe only when I’ve slid into a seat on the bus, I let out a sigh and turn my head to the window.
In the spirit of Christmas, I decided I needed to write something that encompasses the holiday spirit! Nobody loves Christmas as much as Spring does in this new piece. Enjoy.
(Warning, there is some foul language.)
The tree was glistening, the lights flashing in an organized rhythm. Blue. Green. Red. Blue. Green. Red. The stockings were hung on the fireplace mantel, arranged by age and size. Mom. Dad. Hunter. And me, Spring. The milk and cookies were placed on the traditional Christmas plate my grandmother had given us when we were just babies. It looked like a Christmas magazine spread.
It was perfect, a flawless family holiday. Oh how I’d been wanting one for so many years. Ever since Hunter moved away for college and Mom and Dad started fighting, it hadn’t been like this. Each year I would call, stop by, hope that the decorations would be hung, that my mom would ask me to come over and bake her special Christmas cookies. Each year that I was denied, that my Mom said she was too busy, that there was no point and that I should have fun with my friends, a part of me would crack.
My brother was too busy with his college buddies and drinking to even answer my calls, my family had fallen apart. My father was always in his study, a strong glass of whiskey beside him, while he chatted with other women online. They thought I didn’t know about all their indiscretions, but I did.
But this year was going to be different. I decided I’d hang the decorations myself. Exactly how mom used to do. I baked the cookies in my mother’s oven, making sure they were just right. I poured just the right amount of milk for Santa. The presents were carefully placed under the twinkling lights. Everything was perfect.
I took in my masterpiece once more before a moan behind me broke my concentration.
“Mm, ahh!” My mother calls from behind her duct tape. Her blue eyes frantically searching mine. Her blonde hair pressed against her cheek from the sweat beading down her temples. I kneel in front of her and push the hair behind her ear. Her breaths are coming in pants as she tries to communicate with me. I shake my head at her, it’s not time yet. It isn’t midnight, it isn’t Christmas yet.
Movement to the left of Mother. My father, wiggling his hands, attempting to free the zip ties I’d placed on them. I know it must hurt, I don’t want to hurt them. I just want to be a family again. This is the only way. Mother looks into father’s eyes, tears falling from both. I think this is the first real emotion they’ve shown one another in years.
Lastly, my brother, Hunter. The brother I haven’t spoken to in almost six months. A brother who posts photos of himself with different girls every night, drinks and drugs in his system. Ignoring what was happening to our family. Ignoring his sister as she spiraled into loneliness. The duct tape I placed on him is barely allowing him to breathe. Bright green ecstasy pills I shoved into his mouth, telling him to not swallow. He needs to learn constraint. To abstain from the evilness of drugs.
I look up at the ticking clock, only eight more minutes til Christmas. A giddiness builds inside me. I look back to my family, who are all panting, sweating and eyeing me like I’m crazy. Frankly, I’m the one sane one in this family. I grip the kitchen knife harder in my hand, wishing time would move by faster. I look out the window, the snowflakes falling in the lights reminding me of when I was a child and would stay up to watch the white blanket covering our small town.
“It’s beautiful, isn’t it?” I say, to no one really. Whimpers escape my mother. “Christmas is the most joyous season, wouldn’t you agree?”
My mother shuts her eyes tightly, her chin falling. I leap over to her, grabbing her chin and pulling her face to mine. “Wouldn’t you agree, Mother?” I ask politely. She nods frantically. Sobbing behind her gag.
I nod back, giving her my best smile. I walk into the kitchen and check on my punch, a family recipe. I take the large ladle and make sure all the pills I’d put in it earlier are dissolved. Almost there, perfect.
A crashing sounds sends me into the living room. Hunter has somehow escaped his duct taped hands, and is now pulling the tape off his mouth.
“You crazy bitch!” He spits at me. I take a deep breath and hold the knife up for protection as he comes towards me.
“What the fuck do you think you’re doing? Jesus Christ, Spring!”
“I had to!” I sob, holding the knife out farther, halting his movements. Mom and Dad are now frantically trying to escape, eyes darting between their two children. “You don’t understand. Our family was falling apart!” I cry, a tear escaping my eye as well.
Hunter takes another step towards me and I slash the knife in front of him, he jumps back, his hands out in a soothing gesture. “Okay, just…let’s just put the knife down, Spring. Okay? We’ll put the knife down, let Mom and Dad out, and we can celebrate Christmas.” His head turns towards the clock. “Only four minutes left, right?”
I check, he’s right. Only four minutes. Maybe Hunter is right, maybe everyone is ready to celebrate Christmas. “O-okay.” I stutter.
Hunter lays his hand out, palm up in front of him. “Just, pass the knife over, okay?”
I grip it tightly once, before letting it go in his hand.
He takes a step back, towards Mom and Dad. “I’m just going to let them go, okay? Just so we can be together.”
Together. That is a nice word. Soon, we’ll be together forever.
“Oh, thank god.” My mothers voice rushes out, pulling Hunter to her and gripping his cheeks as she cries.
“Jesus.” My father mutters, pulling them both into his body. Protecting them, from me. Don’t they see, they don’t need to be scared of me. We’re a family. I take a step towards them, wanting to be a part of it all. They hesitate, but allow me into their fold.
After a moment of bonding, they all let go. I can tell they are shaking and unsure what to do.
I look at the clock one more time. One minute, perfect. It’s time for punch and Christmas.
“I’m going to get us some punch. Then we can sit by the fire and open presents, just like we used to, right Momma?” I say.
She nods. “Right.”
I quickly head into the kitchen, pouring ladle fulls of punch into the crystal goblets we’d always used. All the pills are dissolved, they won’t even taste it. Soon, every day will be like Christmas.
“Here.” I say, passing everybody their own glass. My mothers sloshes in her nervousness.
“Spring…I, maybe we should talk about what’s happening here?” My father asks.
Anger rushes into me. “NO! No. We’re going to celebrate Christmas like a family, like tradition!”
“Okay…okay, but after. After we need to…”
“Not now.” I snap. “It’s time. Let’s count down?”
“Ten. Nine. Eight.” Dad starts.
“We all sip on zero.”
“Seven. Six. Five.” Hunter.
“Four. Three. Two.” Mom.
It seems to me the only way I can find out what that book is about is by playing detective. The only other person who might know about that book and about Torres is Lionel’s friend, Ashley. Lionel was suspicious when he saw Ashley hauling Torres’ suitcases into a trunk. I get the feeling Ashley is the right person to talk to.
I wait an hour after Lionel leaves. After feeding my mother some bogus excuse about meeting up with a friend at the movies, I slip out the front door and down the street to wait for the bus. On the bus I pick a seat near the back, beside the window. I brought along the photo with the message from the book as evidence that should prove to Ashley that I’m serious.
A half hour later, I hop off the bus and walk two blocks.
Taking a deep breath, I enter the hotel, the automatic doors making a swishing sound as they open. The lobby is sort of dingy with brown tiled flooring and sad yellow walls. I look around, searching for an employee as I walk to the front desk. After a moment, I ring the little bell. “Hello?”
A guy emerges from a door behind the desk labeled Manger’s office. He has dark hair with purple that obscures a large portion of the left side of his face. He cracks a smile when he sees me.
“Welcome to the Clairvine Hotel. Can I check you in?”
“I’m not a guest. I was actually looking for someone who works here, his name is Ashley.”
“Hi, I’m Cass. I’m a friend of Lionel’s.”
Ashley looks me over, his eyes softening. “Well it appears he has good taste in friends.”
I refrain from laughing and act slightly flustered. “I, uh, I was wondering if I could ask you a couple of questions.”
“Sure,” Ashley says. “Let’s go somewhere a little more private.”
I nod and follow him to the breakfast area across the lobby. We sit at a table tucked in the far corner.
“So, how can I help you?”
“Have you known Lionel long?”
Ashley chuckles. “We go way back.”
I consider this. “Okay, well I’m just going to cut to the chase.” I glance around quickly before continuing. “You were the one who told Lionel where Torres was staying.”
“So you know what Lionel was going to do, right?”
Ashley cocks his head. “Yes and no. I knew he was going to steal something that he thought should belong to him. I don’t know what it was though.” He leans forward, crossing his arms on the table. “How do you know about that? I’m pretty sure he wouldn’t spill incriminating stuff like that to just anyone.”
“Well—“ I stammer, caught off guard.
Ashley’s eyes narrow. “You went with him, didn’t you?”
“I… that’s beside the point,” I say, my cheeks beginning to blush. This wasn’t part of the plan. “Look, he found what he was looking for but then he lost it…”
“Did you know you could be considered an accessory to murder in addition to breaking and entering?” Ashley says, his tone cool as he disregards what I just said.
“Do you like him?”
“Lionel? No!” I exclaim, my cheeks burning now. “Okay, shut up and just focus okay? And just so you know, you could be considered an accessory as well. You are the one who leaked Lionel information.”
“Touché,” Ashley says, grinning. He leans back in his chair. “What did you want to know?”
“Do you know anything about this?” I pull the photo from my pocket and slide it across the table. Ashley snatches it up and inspects it, flipping it over and reading the message. He grins.
“Good ol’ Dal Torres. Always had a sense of humour.”
“This was in the book Lionel stole. The book was a fake, it had blank pages.”
“A book?” Ashley’s eyes slide to the side.
“Do you have any idea why Torres would go to the trouble of creating a fake book?”
“Did Lionel tell you what the real book contains?”
I bite my lip, trying to come up with something that’s not as lame as the truth, but Ashley beats me to the punch.
“Ah,” he says, his face a mix of interest and dark intent. “That’s what you’re really here about, isn’t it.”
This isn’t going how I thought it would at all. I need to get out of here, before I give away too much, plus this guy is starting to creep me out with his mind reading B.S. I stand from the table. “You know what, I shouldn’t have bothered you, you clearly don’t know anything.”
Ashley grabs my wrist as I pass. “Why don’t you ask Lionel about all the sporting events he accompanied Torres to. That might answer your question.” He lets go and I walk quickly away. “See you around, Cass,” he calls after me, sending a chill up my spine.
I hold the book in my hands as I leave Cassidy’s house. She wasn’t happy about my sudden departure after lunch, and even less happy about my asking to take the book with me. After I explained she wasn’t going to be able to do anything with a fake book anyway, she let me go, though not before casting me yet another clouded glare.
I left her the photo with the message though, it’s of no use to me anyway.
I can’t shake my suspicions of Ashley, no matter how much I try. He’s up to something, but I can’t figure out his connection to Torres. Maybe if I pay him a visit, show him the book, and gage his reaction, I might make some headway.
With the idea in mind, I walk faster, heading towards the nearest bus stop. Then something occurs to me. If I show up at the hotel hours after I just told him I lost what I stole, that would look weird. I should wait a day or two.
What an annoying word. Wait.
I let out a huff and take a seat on the bench at the bus stop as the wind picks up, blowing leaves and garbage around in a little circle on the sidewalk. I guess the only place I can go is home for now.
After lunch my mother finally lets me go up to my room. It was agony trying to eat at a normal pace while I could feel the book pressing against my skin beneath my jacket. I close the door and pull the book from my jeans, holding it with both hands as I cross the room to my bed.
I wonder what it could hold. Maybe government secrets? Details about a drug smuggling operation? Incriminating photos?
My heart races as I crack open the cover. The first page is blank. I flip to the next page. Same thing. In frustration I thumb through the entire book. Every single page is blank. What the hell? I hold the book upside down and shake it. Something flutters out and lands on my covers. Picking it up, I realize it’s a photo of Dal Torres holding up a middle finger to the camera. I turn the photo over and there’s a message scrawled in sloppy writing that reads: “To the idiot who thinks it’s easy to steal from Dal Torres, think again.”
“Why do you have the book?”
I look up startled to find Lionel standing in my doorway. “What are you doing here?” I sputter.
“I came to check on you, I felt bad about what you saw last night,” he says, striding into the room, “But that’s beside the point. Why do you have the book?”
“I found it when we were searching for it. I wanted to know what the big secret was. Surprise, it’s a whole lot of nothing.” I hold up the photo and Lionel snatches it from my hand.
He studies the picture, then flips it over, reading the message. His faces blanches and he tosses the photo down and picks the book up off the bed, flipping through the pages.
“I don’t understand,” Lionel whispers.
“What’s not to understand? You thought you were smart, but Torres was smarter.”
Lionel closes the book, staring down at me. “But if this was just a fake, why did Torres act so upset when he saw us in his room? Why wouldn’t he just let us get away, why start a fight when he saw I had a knife? It doesn’t make any sense.”
I draw my knees up. “I don’t know.”
Lionel sits down beside me, his eyes far away as he contemplates. “Is it possible Ashley was involved…?”
“You keep mentioning Ashley. Why would he want to screw you over? Aren’t you friends?”
“I thought so.” Lionel leans back, resting on his elbows. “If I tell you about Ashley and Dal Torres, will you promise not to freak out? I mean, you’re already involved, more than you should be.”
“You’re regretting bringing me along in the first place, aren’t you?” I guess.
Lionel grimaces. “A little. Why did you agree to come along? I mean, you don’t really seem like the kind of girl who enjoys breaking and entering.”
I laugh. “I’m not. I just needed to do something exciting.”
“Yeah. You thought it would be some elaborate explanation?” I smile, gathering my hair over one shoulder and finger combing the knots out. “Plus my friend needed some help. Anyway, before we get any more sidetracked, you were going to tell me about Ashley and Torres. Spill.”
Lionel casts me a dubious look before staring up at the ceiling. “You are one strange girl, Cass. Okay, where do I start?”
“Cassidy?” my mother asks, popping her head inside my room. “I was wondering if Lionel would like some to eat. There’s still some leftover souvlaki from lunch.”
Lionel perps up, his eyes smiling of their own accord. “I’d love some. I’m starving.”
I give Lionel a dark look. He’s clearly thankful for the interruption. He really doesn’t want to tell me what’s in that book. But I’ll find out one way or another. I smile at my mother. “That’d be great. Thanks, Mom.”
We get up and follow my mother downstairs. I whisper to Lionel on the stairs. “We aren’t done talking about the book.”
Lionel offers me a small grimace and averts his eyes.
The lobby is a moderately sized space, with a tiled floor and small breakfast area to the left. Ashley stands behind the front desk in his beige polo with the hotel’s logo on the front. He looks up from his computer as I approach, his black hair, streaked with purple, falling lazily over one eye. His lips quirk up at the corner.
I cross my arms over the raised counter and play it cool. I don’t want to let him know I suspect him of anything. “Ash.”
He looks around quickly before lowering his voice. “How did things go last night?”
I laugh. “How do you think it went? Torres is dead.”
A couple descends the stairs nearby, talking loudly to each other. They come to a stop at the desk a foot away from me. Tourists have no sense of personal space.
“Yeah, can I get a city map?” The balding man says.
Ashley flashes them his best customer service smile. “Sure thing. Can I get you a popular sites pamphlet as well?”
“Didn’t you hear him?” The wife asks in a nasally voice. “Just get a map.”
“Right away.” Ashley pulls a folded map from a drawer and hands it to the husband. “Have a great day.”
The wife rolls her eyes as the husband grabs the pamphlet and they head out the automatic doors. I wait until the doors close before speaking again.
“Things went badly.”
“Did you at least get what you were looking for?”
I frown. “Well yeah, but then I sort of lost it…”
“You lost something that was important enough to kill for?” Ashley laughs incredulously. “Jesus.”
“Were you working last night?”
Ashley sobers. “I had a morning shift yesterday.”
“So you weren’t here when the cops showed up?”
“Just wondering, in case you had heard anything they said. If they had any leads or anything.”
“Oh,” Ashley nods. “Sorry. But this might help you out.” He reaches under the desk and pulls out my pocket knife, handing it over the counter.
I snatch it from his hand. “Where did you find this?”
“Behind the hotel earlier when I was taking out the trash. I recognized the handle and thought I better get it back to you before someone else found it and put two and two together.”
“So what are you going to do about the lost thing you stole from Torres?” Ashley asks.
“Honestly? I have no idea, but I’ll figure it out.”
“Let me know how it goes.”
“Sure. I’m going to get going though. I don’t want to be seen around here for a few days.”
“I understand. Best of luck.” Ashley dips his chin and grins as I cross the lobby and exit the hotel.
Outside, I flip the knife over and over again in my hands, staring down at the snakeskin pattern printed on the handle. I hadn’t even noticed I’d dropped it. I suppose I should be grateful to Ashley for returning it, but I still can’t shake the feeling he’s crooked. What was he doing loading up Torres’ suitcases? Why didn’t the police collect them as evidence?
But what about Cassidy? I’ve been so caught up in finding that book that I’ve completely forgotten Cass’ feelings. She wasn’t prepared for me killing someone and I haven’t even talked to her about it. She’s got to be freaking out. I should drop by her house and talk to her. That’s what a friend would do.
I tuck the knife into my back pocket and catch the next bus at the stop down the street.
The hotel looks different in the daylight. Of course, that might also be because I get to see it from the street, not the roof. For some reason I still expected police to be here, considering they would have found Torres’ body last night, but there’s not an officer in sight.
Lionel and I walk around the side of the hotel to where the fire escape is. It turns out the blackness below it yesterday is the employee parking lot. Various shiny black and silver cars are lined up along the building. A couple of city dumpsters are huddled below the fire escape. Lionel looks to me dryly.
“So, are you going to check the dumpsters or am I?”
“I’m not dumpster diving for a secret book that you won’t tell me anything about.”
“I’ll take that as a no,” Lionel says, striding to the dumpster and hoping up swiftly, using the side as leverage to propel himself up and over.
I stare at him for minute. His white blonde hair drifts around his face like dandelions in the breeze. He’s the one that got us into this mess. I don’t know why I’m still helping him. Some small part of me hopes I can be the one to find the book, that way I can peek inside and see what the big secret is.
I leave Lionel to rummage through garbage and search through the shrubbery skirting the hotel. I crouch in the grass and survey beneath the bushes, pushing branches out of the way. Nothing. I walk a few feet down and try again. Still nothing. I check the whole perimeter and frown. Nothing.
Lionel is jumping down from the dumpster as I return. “Any luck?”
I shake my head. “Nothing. Maybe it landed on a lower level of the fire escape?”
“That’s possible. I guess we’ll have to check. Here stand on my back, you’ll have to jump to bring the ladder back down.”
Lionel bends over so I can step up. Just then, voices sound nearby. The back door to the hotel begins to open.
“Quick,” Lionel grabs my sleeve and we scurry to crouch behind the nearest car. He peers through the windshield and his eyebrows knot together.
“Who is it?” I whisper.
“My buddy, Ashley and some other guy. He’s got Torres’ suitcases and he’s loading them into a car. What the hell is he doing?” Lionel wonders.
“Wouldn’t the police that those as evidence?”
“Can you hear what they’re saying?” I ask, craning my neck to get a look. Lionel pushes me back down gently by the shoulder.
“No, but I bet it’s fishy.” His gaze remains locked on his friend.
Something flashes under the car in the spot next to us. Beside the back wheel, the black book glints in the sun. You’ve got to be kidding me. Lionel remains oblivious, I can’t let him get the book just yet. I pull my ring off and drop it on the pavement.
A moment later Ashely and the guy head back inside the hotel.
We stand and Lionel looks pissed.
“Do you think we should come back later?”
“They probably won’t be coming back out for a while. Let’s check the fire escape.”
We start to head towards the escape when I pretend to realize I lost my ring.
“Oh shoot! I dropped my ring,” I say holding up my hand. “It’s probably by the car. I’ll be right back.”
Lionel tells me to hurry as I rush back to the car. I pretend to look around until I find the ring beside the book. I tuck the book into the waist of my jeans quickly, pulling my jacket down over it. Then I grab the ring and jog back over, slipping it onto my finger.
He looks bored and motions for me get on his back. After a couple of attempts, I finally reach the ladder. I hang from it for a few seconds as Lionel grabs my legs and pulls. The ladder slides down and I land lightly.
Fifteen minutes later, after an unsuccessful search, Lionel huffs and calls off the dogs.
“I have no idea where that book could be. Maybe Ashley found it? He’s clearly being shady.”
I nod. “That’s possible.”
“I might have to pay him a visit.”
“Do you want me to tag along?”
Lionel shakes his head, starting down the ladder. “No, I don’t want him seeing you.”
“Alright. We’ll I’ll head home then?”
Lionel lands with a thud on the grass. “That would be best. I’ll meet up with you later.”
I follow down after him. My sneakers slips off the last rung and I let out a yelp. Lionel reaches up to steady my legs. I jump down. “Thanks.”
He grins. “Later.”
I watch as he disappears around the corner before touching the book through my jacket. When I get home I’ll finally be able to see what the secret is.
I go over the plan in my head over and over again. It’s simple, run, jump, roll, and hide. That was as far and Lionel had explained before giving me a hard look and disappearing into the shadows. I grip the ledge of the roof tightly until my fingertips go numb as I glare at the gap between this building and the next one. It’s got to be at least an eight foot jump.
I call Lionel every name I can think of under my breath as I back up from the ledge. It might be simple if I had any sort of practice with parkour or something. Hell, I did gymnastics when I was 6 and I got vertigo just standing on the balance beam. Lionel does this sort of thing all the time, he’s trained for it, but it’s ridiculous to think I can.
A quick whistle sounds from the other roof and I can make out Lionel’s waving hand. Show off.
I pace back a few more feet and rub my palms against my jeans. My heart races in my chest. I’ve got to be crazy to even think I can do this. I begin to regret my decision to help Lionel out.
A metallic clang sounds nearby and a half dozen men swarm out the roof entrance. They start shouting at me but I’m off before they get near me. My shoes slap off the cement and I pump my arms. The edge of the roof is coming up fast. The shouts get closer but I push harder. One last step on the ledge and I spring up and over. The alley below passes by in slow motion.
Everything speeds up again as the ledge of the neighbouring building rushes towards me. I realize I’m too low, I didn’t get enough height. I let out a scream as I reach out and collide with the brick. My hands clamp around the roof’s ledge. I dangle twenty stories above the ground.
My feet kick wildly, searching for a grove in the bricks, a window sill, something. The shouts behind me have quieted. Those guys on the other roof are waiting to see if I’m going to go splat.
My grip is slipping, the sweat on my hands making it hard to hold on. I jerk suddenly to the side as my grip fails and I hang by one hand, a yelp escaping my lips. The muscles in my arm are burning, I can’t hold on much longer. My fingers rake across the ledge as I fall.
Hands shoot down and wrap around my wrist before I even have time to register that I’m not plummeting to my death. A few grunts and I’m pulled over the ledge and onto the roof. I take raspy breaths.
“What part of roll and hide didn’t you get?”
I cast Lionel a dirty look. “Oh shut up.”
He grins before twisting to look over the ledge. The men are milling, their eyes fixed on where I disappeared. They probably can’t see us, it’s too dark.
“Who are they?”
I shrug. “Security maybe? People aren’t supposed to be on the roof.”
I can tell he isn’t entirely convinced, but he lets it go for now.
“Come on, we still have to figure out which room Torres is staying in.” He grabs my hand and we crouch down as we jog over to the fire escape on the opposite side of the building.
“My buddy said he was staying in one of the rooms accessible from the fire escape.”
“Well that’s vague.”
“It’s better than nothing.”
I let out a breath as Lionel creeps down the escape.
“You coming?” he asks, squinting up at me. His eyes flash in the light emanating from the hotel room window beside him.
“Why did I need to jump? Couldn’t we just have used this fire escape from the beginning?”
“Well yes, but I needed to make sure you were committed.”
“Good news, you are.”
My eyebrows draw together. “I could have died.”
“Don’t be so dramatic. I knew you could make it.”
“But I didn’t. I almost became Cassidy the pancake.”
“Oh, right.” Lionel’s quiet for a moment. “Anyway, the fact remains you didn’t die. So let’s get a move on and do what we came to do.”
I follow sullenly behind him as we descend stair after stair pausing at each window to look for Torres. After six windows we finally find him. I make a mental note that he’s on the 24th floor. “What now?”
“Shhh!” Lionel says, using his arm to press me against the wall beside him. Slowly he peeks around the sill to get a better look. “He’s reading a script or something,” he whispers. “He’s pacing back and forth. Looks like he’s alone.”
“We have to get him to leave the room long enough to get what we came for.”
“How do we do that?”
“Leave that to me.”
I watch as Lionel fishes his phone from his pocket. He dials a number and holds the phone to his ear. After a couple of rings someone picks up.
“Yes, this is Dal Torres’ publicist. Could you please put me through to his room?” A few seconds pass. When he speaks again his voice shifts down a few octaves. “Mr. Torres? This is the front desk. There was an accident in the parking lot. Your car has been damaged. If you would please be so kind as to come down to the lobby so we can sort out the situation?” Torres’ response is loud enough I can hear it through the window as well as the phone. He’s not happy. He hangs up quickly and leaves his room. The slam of the door is audible. Lionel shoves his phone back into his pocket, smirking as he does so. “That should give us about ten minutes. Let’s move.”
I walk forward, peering into the room, my fingers cupped against the glass. “How do we get in?”
Lionel chuckles. “The window.” I watch as he crouches down and works the blade of a pocket knife between the sill and the pane, working to unlatch the lock. After a few seconds of shimming the blade, the window creaks up a fraction. “Bingo,” he says as he pushes the window up.
“Do you want me to be a look out or…?”
“Cass, there’s literally nothing to look out for on this fire escape. Come on,” he says, taking my hand and pulling me though the opening after him.
Torre’s room is warm, with a single lamp on near the bed. A couple of suitcases sit near the foot of the bed, and it’s there that Lionel heads.
I know I agreed to help but I’m having second thoughts. The act of breaking into someone’s room and stealing from them feels different in practice than in theory. I rub my arms and stride a few feet across the room. On the small desk there’s a script, tossed haphazardly there when Torres left. I go to pick it up, curious to see what it’s for, when Lionel’s voice sounds behind me.
“Don’t touch anything. Fingerprints, remember?”
I draw my hand back. “But you’re rummaging through his suitcase.”
Lionel lets out a laugh. “He’s going to know it was me, there’s no point in hiding it.”
A minute passes. Lionel searches through the second suitcase.
“He could come back… we should hurry.” I edge closer to look over Lionel’s shoulder. “What are you looking for anyway?”
“Got it,” he exclaims, pulling a small black book the size of his hand from the suitcase. He stands, tucking the book inside the breast pocket of his bomber jacket. “Easy. I told ya. Let’s get out of here.”
We’re turning to the window when the door to the room opens and Torres stands in the hallway. His dark hair is a wild mess down to his shoulders, a bandana tied above his brow. His eyes are dark and narrow, his lips pulled back over his teeth.
My mouth falls open. We’re screwed.
Lionel pushes my shoulders roughly. “Quick! Out the window!”
I run to the window, pulling myself through the opening, Lionel following behind. A howl rips from Torres’ throat as he streaks across the room and grips the back of Lionel’s jacket, jerking him backwards. He staggers towards the bed and trips over one of the open suitcases. Torres advances on him.
“Lionel!” I shout.
“Run, get away from here!” He demands as he regains his balance and pulls the switchblade from his pocket. I want to, I’m scared, but I’m paralyzed. I can’t leave him.
“You little punk,” Torres says, “You think you can steal from Dal Torres and get away with it?”
A cocky grin spreads over Lionel’s face. “Well I just did, and I’m pretty confident I will.”
Torres doesn’t like that and steps forward. “Give me the book back and maybe I’ll let you walk out of here.”
“Little prick.” Torres launches himself at Lionel, striking out with a series of punches. Lionel dodges most of them, but one hits him in the jaw and he falls onto the bed. Torres is on him in an instant, he kicks out, his boot connecting with the lamp. It goes crashing to the floor, sending the room into blackness.
I can’t see them. I only hear grunts and cursing. What do I do? I should run, do like Lionel said, but I still can’t force myself to move. After a minute the room goes silent.
“Lionel?” I squeak.
A second later a figure emerges from the black, its hands gripping the sill. I jump back, afraid it’s Torres, but instead, Lionel appears. He shuts the window and turns to face me. His face is clouded.
I bite my lip hesitantly. “What happened?”
Lionel shrugs. “Torres won’t be making any more movies.”
“Did you… did you kill him? With that switchblade?” My voice rises. “Oh my god, you killed Torres!”
Lionel steps forward, gripping my arms. “It was either that or get killed. You heard him.”
I shake my head. “I didn’t agree to this.”
“You didn’t do anything. Your conscience is clear.”
I step back, my sneakers grating against the metal of the fire escape. “It doesn’t work that way.” Anger seeps through me, washing away my disbelief. “What was so important you killed for it, huh?” I reach into Lionel’s jacket and pull the book out. “What is this?”
Lionel tries to grab the book but I hold it up and away from me.
“Be careful with that,” he says.
“Answer my question. What is it? I swear I’ll drop it over this railing. Who knows where it’ll land down there.”
“I can’t tell you. Now give it back.”
I hold the book further over the railing. “Tell me!”
Lionel ignores my question and reaches over me, trying to grab the book. My back presses into the railing. “Stop playing around, Cass.”
A siren sounds below us and it startles me. The book falls from my hand and drops down into the darkness below.
“No! Dammit!” Lionel growls, pounding his fist off the railing.
“Sorry, I didn’t mean to drop it.”
Lionel rolls his eyes and lets out a slow breath. “I know.” He steps past me and starts down the stairs. “Let’s go. That siren meant someone called the cops. They must have heard the scuffle. We’ll come back tomorrow and find the book.”
I nod and follow after him.