It was just after ten when we got to the jewelry store that I’d circled on the map, almost literally a block up Olive from the police department. At Nora’s direction I parked up the street in front of a bank where we’d have good line of sight, but hopefully not be quickly noticed by anyone looking to do something nefarious. I chuckled to myself as I thought it’d be incredibly ironic if we got harassed by a passing cop for being two suspicious people parked in front of a bank after hours. I said as much to Nora, who proceeded to punch me in the arm before handing me my food box.
I snorted and tucked back into my now-cold-but-still-amazing steak sandwich. Unfortunately fries never seem to hold up as cold leftovers nearly as well and I gave up on them as a lost cause pretty early on. Apparently Nora felt the same as hers remained untouched long after her sandwich had disappeared. After a few minutes of silence post-munching I moaned, “Well, I have to say that thus far I’m extremely disappointed.”
“No coffee. No donuts. I thought this was a stakeout!”
Nora rolled her eyes. “For God’s sake, Taft! I just bought you a steak sandwich!”
I reached across her and popped open the glove box. “Which I didn’t get to eat hot, and now I have a sweet tooth.”
I pulled out a bag of peanut M&Ms I keep in there for just such emergencies and offered her some. She laughed as she took a handful. “These’ll rot your teeth, you know.”
“Meh, the cholesterol will kill me first.”
She laughed again. I love that sound. “At least you’ll die happy.”
I reached into my inner jacket pocket and pulled out my father’s flask. It was silver and had a bald eagle in front of the American flag worked into it with our family name underneath. Mom had gotten it for him for a birthday one year that I can only vaguely recall. I always thought that it was sappily patriotic, but it was one of the few things of theirs that I was able to scavenge from my older siblings after the car crash, so I like to keep it with me. I unscrewed the lid and offered it to her. She almost spit M&M chunks in surprise as she took it. “I didn’t know that you drink. What is this, whiskey?”
“Sweet tea. I’m from the south, remember?”
She chuckled as she took a swig and handed it back. “You’re a funny guy, Taft.”
“Yeah, a real laugh riot,” I replied dryly as I took a drink myself before screwing the lid back in place and sticking it back in my pocket.
She play-punched me again. “No, really. You always make me laugh.” She crunched on a few more M&M’s and then continued, “Not only that but you’re smart, but not obnoxious about it. You’re a good listener. You care about others. You treat people, especially women, with respect without being patronizing. I’m honestly amazed that you’re still single.”
I squirmed a bit in my seat and made a point of not looking at her. This was definitely a topic of conversation that I didn’t want to delve into, especially not with her. “Well, I don’t exactly have a ton going for me right now. I live in my grandma’s basement. I have a crappy job where I don’t even make jack-squat, just squat. I have a ridiculous amount of school loans and medical issues out the wazoo. That’s not even taking into consideration that I look like an amateur sumo wrestler as a result of said medical issues. I spend more time with books and movies than I do with other people. I’m practically a waddling cliché.”
“You shouldn’t talk about yourself like that.”
Her tone of voice had gone quiet and serious, which made me even more uncomfortable. I could feel her eyes on me, and with me determined not to look at her back it became incredibly awkward very quickly. I forced myself to smirk but kept my eyes on the store up the street. “Eh, I ams who I ams. I made peace with that a long time ago. Me and Popeye.”
She didn’t laugh at the joke like I hoped she would. She was silent for a few moments and then I felt her hand on my shoulder. “I just worry about you sometimes, Nick. It’s not good to be alone all the time. Trust me, I know.”
My eyes started to burn and I silently cursed myself. I was not going to cry in front of her. I reached up with my left hand and gave the one on my shoulder a squeeze. “Thanks, but I’m fine. Really.”
Thank God for criminal activity. I nodded toward the street. “Officer Charleston? That look a little suspicious to you?”
Out of the corner of my eye I saw her glance in the direction I indicated, a protest about me dodging the subject on her lips, when she suddenly sat up straight and almost dumped the to-go box and its long-forgotten remains onto the floor of my truck. A woman in her early thirties at most, with short blonde hair and sporting a form-fitting black leotard with a matching fanny pack on her hip was walking slowly past the front of the jewelry store, her attention darting suspiciously all around her.
I snorted. “Wow, speaking of clichés. A black cat suit? All she’s missing is the ears and whip.”
Nora took the Glock from her shoulder holster and checked the magazine before snapping it back home and chambering a round. “Yeah, I don’t think she’s window shopping.”
We both ducked down when the young woman’s gaze veered in our general direction. Nora’s face was right next to mine and I could feel the misty warmth of her breath on my cheek. I silently berated myself for not keeping my mind on what was important and slowly eased back up to look over the dashboard. I was just in time to see the woman duck down a side alley next to the store. I sat up and pulled Nora up with me.
I pointed. “She just went down the alley next to the store.”
“Told’ja it might be a woman!”
“Yeah, yeah. I bow to your superior wisdom. What do we do?”
She flashed me a wicked grin as she threw open the door. “We go be good guys.”
“I was afraid you’d say that…”
She whispered over her shoulder. “C’mon! You said it yourself, she’s practically Catwoman! It’s just like Batman! You love Batman.”
“Yeah, but in this scenario I’m Robin!”
She didn’t hear me since she was already halfway up the street. With another muttered string of curses I grabbed my cane and hauled myself out of the truck after her. With my bum knee I’m not exactly quick on my feet or stealthy, so I got to the corner of the building about a minute behind Nora, who was cautiously peeking from behind the cover of the building’s wall. I tried to keep my labored breathing as steady as possible and was silently embarrassed as hell that the relative short distance from my truck to the building had caused me to be that winded. “Shouldn’t we…call for backup…or something?”
She eyed me with the ghost of a smile on her face. “You’re not going to pass out on me are you?”
Her attention turned back to the store. “The whole point of this was to catch her ourselves. We call for backup and they’ll literally be here within a minute or two since they’re just up the street. It’s just one woman, and wearing that tight cat outfit I doubt that she’s concealing an assault rifle.” She smirked and punched me in the arm again. That was getting really annoying. “I’m sure we can manage, Robin. We’ll call the cavalry once we have her in custody.”
She bent down to pull a small revolver from a boot holster and I forced myself to not stare at the view. She handed it to me. “Still remember how to use one of these don’t you?”
“Holy pistol envy, Batman. Could you find anything smaller?” I took the gun gingerly and checked the safety. I don’t necessarily have a problem with guns, but I didn’t have a license to carry and it made me a little nervous. We were going off the reservation enough as it was. Still, I figured it was better to have it and not need it than to need it and not have it. Nora’s life might depend on it. “Grandma took us to the range every Saturday. She insisted.”
Nora nodded as she checked the corner. “God, I love that woman. Okay, stay behind me. You’re here purely as my back up.”
“Yippie ki yay.”
She snorted and gestured with her head. “C’mon, McClane.”
I followed her down the alley and we ended up back behind the building. A metal door was propped wide open with a little plastic door wedge, the alarm panel off to the side similarly open with its wires bypassed. Nora whispered needlessly, “Staff entrance.”
My brief stint in the academy was proving useful as we took up position on either side of the door. She checked the doorway and then we made our way inside. It looked like the staff entrance opened up into a break room. We made sure it was clear and then Nora leaned in, her breath once again warm on my skin as she whispered, “This is going to be her way out. I want you to cover this doorway in case she gets past me.”
I wanted to protest but Nora didn’t give me the chance. I exhaled heavily through my nose and watched helplessly as she made her way down the short hallway and into the show room, silently debating on whether I should go ahead and call it in anyway despite Nora’s protest. My hand drifted to the pocket where I’d stashed my phone, but then I let out a resigned sigh and let the hand drop.
The woman’s back was to us as she was busy stuffing jewelry into the fanny pack clipped around her stomach. Nora’s body was partially blocking my view, but I saw the woman stiffen in shock as Nora leveled her gun and yelled, “Freeze! Police! Hands up!”
The woman had a prim British accent that I always found incredibly attractive, but hers was laced with condescension. “Well, you wankers finally caught me. It only took you four months and my breaking in down the bloody street from you. “
“I said hands up! Turn around!”
“As you wish, love.”
Her left hand was up and she was turning…suddenly Nora jerked and collapsed to the ground. I wanted to shout but my brain kicked in and I ducked back behind the doorway so that the woman wouldn’t see me. I glanced around the corner and saw that the woman was holding a stun gun in her right hand, which she’d just used on Nora. She pulled the trigger on it again and Nora grunted in pain as the “Ghost” bent down to pick up Nora’s dropped handgun. My heart started to race. Had I just killed Nora by not jumping out when I had the chance? “Here all by yourself, are we? Trying to play the Lone Ranger and get your face on the telly?”
She clucked her tongue and shook her head. “Not very smart, or professional, dearie.”
The gun was heavy in my hand, but the last thing that I wanted to do was get into a shootout, especially not with Nora lying helpless on the floor between us. I decided it was best to let things play out and watch for an opportunity. The Ghost gave me one a few moments later.
“Well, I hate to shock and leave but I must be pushing on just in case more of you lot is on the way in.” She bowed theatrically. “You’ve been a lovely audience.”
She leveled the gun at Nora and I almost jumped out from behind the door frame. “Now don’t you move, love. This has been a great night and I’d hate for it to end messy. No reason anyone has to get hurt.”
I ducked back behind the doorway as I heard the Ghost approach. She was glancing back at Nora, making sure that she wouldn’t try anything, so she didn’t see my cane sticking out at the bottom of the doorway. She fell backwards with a whoop as I whipped the cane back around and knocked Nora’s gun from her hand. The gun hit the floor with a thud and I winced, half expecting it to go off like it does in the movies.
The woman looked up at me incredulously. “Now who the bloody hell are you?!”
I winked at her. “Backup.” I assumed my faux-British accent as I aimed my gun at her head and fished my cell phone out of my pocket with my left hand. “Now don’t you move, love. This has been a great night and I’d hate for it to end messy.”
The young woman rolled her eyes at me as she laid her head back down against the cold linoleum floor in defeat. “No one likes a smartass.”