Her body shook as she pulled herself up on the bar. “Come on, I need five more, Noelle,” he said, his voice gruff below her. “I can’t!” she yelled as her scrawny arms gave out and she swung from the bar. “CAN’T isn’t in our vocabulary,” he barked. Noelle dropped down onto the floor and stuck her acrylic fingernail in his face. “No, it’s in YOUR vocabulary. This is some bullshit, I’m gone,” she said as she grabbed her bag. “Noelle,” Antonio yelled after her, his hands on his hips. “I don’t know why I have to do this crap. I told you, I don’t need a dad!”
“So what, you expect to go back out there and do what? Keep grifting at the grocery store? Go to juvy? Get lost in the system?”
Noelle adjusted the bag on her shoulder and bit her lip. “If you want to do this, you need to do it RIGHT. I’m offering more than these lessons…” he trailed off. His own daughter would be a little younger than Noelle and he was constantly reminded of her when Noelle was around. He felt like it was a second chance and he needed to do it right. “Do you wanna go grab some dinner?”
Her neck felt empty without the coin. Even after all this time, she was no closer to discovering the identity of the thief but she was ready for their next encounter. The door to the bedroom burst open and startled her from her trance. “Well, that’ll never do,” Yiao said as he gazed at Noelle, who scrambled to cover herself. “What the hell are you doing here?”
“Saving you from looking completely out of place at the Mayor’s Gala,” he said. He spread a black canvas bag onto the bed. “What is that?”
“Something more appropriate,” he said, before he checked her out once more and shut the door.
“You’ll have 60 minutes to get in, get the bracelet and get back out. The entire house runs off about three different security systems. Shutting one down without alerting the other two is going to be…some work,” Maverick chirped into Noelle’s ear. “Cobra, did you read me?” Noelle was too entranced with her visage in the mirror. The dress was snow white, clingy and drop dead gorgeous. In her line of work, she never got to wear items so luxurious. She worried about how much attention it would call to her intrusion, but she couldn’t stop staring at how perfect it looked on her, complemented by the gold arm band and earrings. “Cobra, do you read me?” Maverick chirped again into the earpiece she wore. “Copy. 60 minutes.”
Her heart nearly jumped out of her chest as she walked around the store. It was full of knick knacks and things of no obvious value. “Are you sure about this?” she whispered to him. “Just calm down. We’ve practiced this 100 times,” he said, giving her one last look of reassurance before splitting off. When he caught the attention of the shopkeeper, Noelle slipped towards the back of the store, where the valuables were stored. As she eyed the glass cases, his words rang in her head: Something small, something that won’t immediately be missed and can be hidden easily. She didn’t know why she chose the coin: it was old and rusted, with a square hole directly in the center of it. Surrounded by other coins, she shuffled them a bit closer and dropped her treasure into her shoe. “Can I help you?” the shopkeeper said gruffly, standing over the 14 year old. She straightened her laces and stood up to the man, who was eye-level with her. “Just tying my shoe. Did you all find the guitar?”
“No, they didn’t have the one we need. Let’s go,” Antonio said, throwing his arm over her and leading her out of the store.
Noelle was too excited about their caper as they bent the corner. “Relax, kiddo, relax. Don’t call attention to yourself,” he said as they ducked into his Buick. “What’d you get?” Noelle bent down and retrieved the coin from her shoe, beaming proudly at him. He inspected it and cracked a small smile. “Nice going,” he said before he started the car and pulled away.
The Mayor’s house was beautiful, 3,500 square feet of marble floors, stained glass windows and rare artistic pieces littering the entire home. Recipients of the Mayor’s invite: CEOs, diplomats and the upper echelon constituents ventured inside, awestruck at the manor. Noelle exited the cherry red Corvette and took a deep breath. She felt naked as she passed through security, whom gave her more than a once over at the sight of her umber skin in the gown. She willed her lungs to breath as she cascaded down the stairs and into the Great Room along with the other guests. Surrounding the entire room were the items up for auctions: art, literature and the piece de resistance, the Markov bracelet: over 29 karats of diamonds and a handful of pure jade, the diadem shaped pieced was rumored to be worth $5 million. The guests milled around the displays, gushing over the rarities inside and scribbling down their silent bets. “Alright everybody, eyes open,” Dorson said into her earpiece. “Looking good there, Deputy Director,” Dorian said, glancing across the room at his superior in her blue strapless number. “Let’s stay sharp, team,” she said, unable to resist the urge to smile at the compliment. She had brought in back up; 8 agents to survey the entire manor for the rest of the evening. Even though she wasn’t 100% sure, she wanted to give Dorian another chance to redeem himself. “Sanchez, I want you stationed by the Markov. DO NOT let it leave your sight tonight,” Dorson said. She gave out the rest of the orders to the other agents. “I just want to thank you…for giving me the chance to do this my way,” Dorian said to Dorson. He could practically hear Sanchez roll his eyes. “Just don’t let me down, Shaw. We cannot afford another loss right now.”
30 MINUTES Maverick’s message read. Noelle took a deep breath and swallowed the rest of the champagne she held. She made sure to move about the room naturally as to not draw attention to herself. She couldn’t shake the feeling of hairs standing straight up all over her skin, as if someone was standing right behind her. She whipped around to stumble into the arms of a tall, older gentleman, who broke out into a smile from his hands on her soft skin. “Now I make it a rule to know all the women I bump into….” he said, his eyes raked over her slowly. “I apologize but you are absolutely stunning,” he said as he finally let her go. She took a step back and cleared her throat. “No, no, it was my fault.”
“Richard Schaumburg, of Schaumburg Holdings,” he said, his hand extended towards Noelle. She had immediately recognized him; she burgled one of the banks he owned in Paris 5 years prior. She placed her hand on top of his gingerly, before he pulled it to his mouth and kissed her knuckles. “Marie. Marie Sandoval, editor of the Sherwood Cannon.”
“Surely you are a model in your spare time…” Noelle exhibited massive control of her attitude to keep from rolling her eyes.
“No such luck. Don’t have the stomach for it.”
“So are you doing a report about the auction? Maybe a puff piece about the Mayor and his second term bid?”
“No, no, I’m just here as a civilian.”
“Alone?” Schaumburg asked her, his graying brow crawled up his forehead. Noelle didn’t have time to entertain the old man and she needed to think quickly to get rid of him. A quick survey of the area around them, her eyes connected with the tall, not so dark, but very handsome man right behind Schaumburg. “No, with my fiancé. There you are, darling,” Noelle said, raising her voice slightly over his shoulder. The man looked around for a second before seeing her widened eye signal for help. “Darling, this is Mr. Schaumburg. He was just telling me about how the Mayor plans on running again next year,” she said as she snaked her arm around the stranger. “Really? I heard he hadn’t made a decision yet. But then again, my father hasn’t talked him into it yet,” Dorian said, wrapping his arm around the small of Noelle’s back. Mr. Schaumburg’s face fell in disappointment when he saw her “fiancé”. “Well, it’s just hearsay,” he stumbled over his words. “Well, if you excuse us, I promised this one here a dance tonight and I won’t deny her any longer,” Dorian said, shaking the old man’s hand.
“Breathe, El,” Antonio said. Noelle let out a shaky breath as she brought one hand up, shifting her weight to her left hand. It had taken her nearly a year to master the move but she knew that he had another surprise for her. He poked her with the broken broom handle twice, but she remained firm. “Good. Good core control.” She brought her hand back down and folded her knees down to her chest. “I really think you should let me help you with the Armand. I’m ready,” Noelle said as she continued her slow movement. “No. It’s a one man job.”
“You say that about every job and you bring me along anyway, Dad. Why is this different?” Antonio still wasn’t used to her calling him Dad, even though they had been together for 5 years. She was everything he had hoped for, plus some. She was intelligent, witty, funny and beautiful with age. Now that she was done with high school, he wanted to set her on the right path. “I don’t want you to join me on the case because I want you to focus on what you want from life.”
“This is my life.”
“It doesn’t….I think you should consider going to college.” Noelle placed her feet back on the ground and stood swiftly, a incredulous look on her face. “College?”
“The world can be your oyster, El. You don’t have to follow the same path that I did.”
“But I’m already on this path. I mean, what have we been doing all this time?”
“It’s been more about being a great thief. It was about patience, control, strength. You are an amazing young woman and I don’t want to hold you back anymore.”
“Dad. I appreciate everything we’ve been doing but college is the last thing I want to do. This is the first thing, the ONLY thing I’m good at, and it’s all because of you. I’ve never done anything else, I’ve never WANTED to do anything else.”
“And that’s my fault! I should’ve put you in cheerleading or the Girl Scouts….you could be captain of the Pep Squad.”
“First of all, all of those options sound HORRIBLE,” Noelle said, urging a laugh from Antonio. “Second, spending time with you has been an experience. How many kids can say their father taught them how to be a cat burglar? Although, that would be a hell of an application essay,” Noelle jested.
“Thank you. I had a feeling he would’ve held me hostage,” Noelle said, slipping from his grip. “No problem,” he said before she began to walk away. “I think you owe me a dance. For my trouble?” Dorian said, before flashing her his magnificent smile. She glanced at the clock on the wall behind him. She still had time before her distraction came into play and she was dressed for a party. She melted into his arms a little too easily, their bodies nearly molded together as they swayed to the music. He hadn’t held anyone this close since the accident. They were silent at first, hearts beating a mile a minute as the time wound down on their prospective missions. “So…have you decided to bid on an item yet?”
“Nothing has piqued my interest yet. You?”
“I haven’t been able to get my hands on the thing I want most. But the night is young,” Dorian said, smiling again. They continued to sway when Noelle caught a glimpse of the earpiece in his left ear. Her heart skipped several beats as she realized who he was and that if he was here, that meant there were more in the crowd. Just as she began contemplating her grand escape, the entire mansion went dark.