Bad Town For A Pretty Face: New York: Chapter One

Our very first chapter! Thanks for reading, guys!

You would’ve thought someone else could’ve had this idea before her. Maybe the fact that they hadn’t, the ease with which she discovered and was now executing it, was a testament to her newfound talents. A sharp breeze blew into the cracked window of the idling old Scion, and she inhaled that city smell, cigarettes and piss with a dash of autumn mixed in. When this was all over she’d drive back to the suburbs and listen to the reddened leaves rustle along the tree line and skitter down asphalt streets, irresistible to crush beneath her heavy new boots.

She’d heard about the job a few days ago — she took them often, a petty thief for hire for other petty thieves. But this time when she called to offer her services she used a new name, a new voice, and now sitting two blocks from some random Brooklyn Heights bodega she had a sharp new outfit, too. If you didn’t know any better, you’d think she was Eyana Albright herself. She switched off the engine and hopped out of the car, then walked down the sidewalk far unlike she usually would, with her head angled down, her feet shuffling, and her posture stiff in hopes of giving off a sense of strength she didn’t really have.

Inspiration migrated north last spring, direct from Miami. When she unrolled the last morning paper before she cancelled her mother’s subscription she was awestruck by the cruise ship heist Mirabelle Bravo had been so daring to attempt, but nestled amongst the FBI’s most wanted pictures on A2 was her true call to greatness: Shay Cupido and Drew Oropeza’s driver’s license photos side by side, like twins. They were unrelated, but looked so similar that Wendy was disappointed when she dug deeper into the case and found their gang hadn’t taken advantage. They could’ve swapped places at some point to confuse the police — or something, something! — in that heist or any other. Their loss was her gain, because the idea seeded in her brain and grew into what it was now: she was officially on her first job as a copycat, and so goddamned excited to be doing it.

The bodega looked much the same as every other in this city, sat on the corner with a couple of bright orange signs advertising beer, cigarettes and lotto tickets. With lunch hour there was a crowd mulling about outside, and as Wendy feigned indifference she saw a couple of glances shot her way, all belonging to suspicious white faces. The glass door with the stickers toting the legal age for alcohol consumption and buying tobacco was identical to every bodega door, and she anticipated the little bell ringing when she swung it open, and then again when she slammed it shut behind her.

“This is a hold up!” She yelled in Eyana’s deep, strong voice, and everyone in the crowded little store jumped. She whipped out the little Ruger she’d seen in many surveillance photos of Eyana and feinted towards the nearest customers, all of whom leapt back at least a foot. Some pressed themselves against the refrigerated wall as she stepped forward, and the man closest to her fearfully whispered her name — Eyana’s name.

“Shut the fuck up!” She yelled daringly, then grabbed the 40 he was holding and smashed it to the ground. “Wallets out! Now!”

There was a great deal of rustling as people dove into their pockets and handbags, and she kept a level look on them all, the kind Eyana would give. Of course, she likely knew her better than anyone in this cramped little convenience store, but she never wanted to break character. She was Eyana’s biggest fan, though she had to be tied with the rest of her gang.

“And you! Empty the register!” She shouted at the clerk, her voice still deep. She always had a knack for voices: she did a flawless Elmo, a near perfect Mickey Mouse, and was the only girl in school to pull off Bart Simpson. An affection for TV didn’t seem to help most people’s careers, but she understood she was a little different. She liked to observe things even when she didn’t understand them, and had an eye for detail she suspected others — neurotypicals, the kid from group two years ago called them — didn’t understand or appreciate. She hoped Eyana and the gang would.

The clerk opened the register drawer and she pulled a small garbage can from the pocket of her grey tracksuit to thrust at him. Her look was impeccable: she bought the tracksuit used so it looked lived in, barely showed off a Nike tank beneath like Eyana liked to wear. The visor of her baseball hat was tipped low over her face, and she kept her head bent so all you could see was the flash of her massive golden hoops. Even if someone were to look her right in the face, Eyana and the gang were an enigma hardly documented and rarely seen. If the police APBs claimed she was black and here and now the clerk was quaking before a dark-skinned Filipino, well, that’s not an entirely shocking mistake. He dumped the money in the sack with shaking hands.

“I don’t understand.” He spoke imploringly. “We already paid this month.”

She had no idea what he was talking about, but responded by knocking over a jar of Dum Dums and a fidget spinner display he kept on the counter. He jumped back and she turned menacingly towards the customers, the bag held out. They passed her their cash silently, terrified, and after a few minutes walking around the store she was satisfied.

“My thanks for your patience.” She said to no one and everyone, then bowed her head like she thought Eyana might, fair and wise as she reportedly was, then turned and walked briskly out of the store with a little ding of the bell. She walked down the street as quickly as she could while still shuffling in the heavy boots, careful to avoid suspicion, but knowing that were Eyana to run the athletic woman would have far better form and posture than she could pull off. There were sirens in the distance, but she returned to her little grey coupe undetected and drove off without a soul glancing her way.

After a few minutes seemingly in the clear she had to let out a giddy squeal. That went so much smoother than she ever could have hoped! Never had she been so confident after a crime — a performance, really. She had to thank Shay and Drew, wherever they were now, for this absolutely life changing job opportunity. And she was extremely optimistic that this was only the humble beginning.

. . .

“Someone’s getting yelled at.” Cleo smirked from their corner of the couch. Eyana took her eyes off her phone and glanced their way — they were curled up in a standard outfit, something dark and high fashion but sparing in boredom, with a round pair of orange sunglasses perched atop their neat, thin dreads. With a tablet on their lap and their eyes fixed firmly on it she knew that meant they were watching the security feed — cameras in the lobby of the high-end building that housed the multi-million dollar penthouse they all lived in. And given that Astor promised she would be back around sunset she knew who was coming and just what her mood was and tugged habitually at one of her hoop earrings.

“Wasn’t me.” Eyana said, but still removed her heavy boots from the coffee table to avoid being dragged in.

“Sure.” Cleo said conspiratorially, and winked rather annoyingly when Eyana glanced at them. Oh so cool, that was Cleo’s way. Generally benevolent, maybe to the point of apathetic, but they would use any opportunity to dole out the quick wit they’d been sharpening over the years. 

“Who’s in trouble?” Brienne yelled over the railing. Eyana looked directly up, her eyes trailing up to the ceiling twenty feet above them, the gold and crystal chandelier, then to the ornate railing to the second floor of the penthouse and top floor of the building, where Brienne was drying her hair with a Turkish towel. The bathroom she’d showered in was tiled entirely in Carrera marble, the faucet gold, the floor heated. Brienne smiled sweetly at them. “It’s not me, is it?”

“Yes.” Cleo called up. “Stop wasting all the hot water.”

“Boo.” Brienne pouted and stepped away from the railing. Cleo eyed Eyana again, like they knew more than she did, and she played with her earring again.

“Maybe we should sit on the terrace.” She said, and pointed her head towards the private garden terrace that had been deemed too cold when they sat down a few minutes ago to mindlessly stare at their screens. The boss was always soothed by the the tiny patch of outdoors they’d spent big money on — soil being such a hot commodity in the concrete jungle, after all — even as the plants got crisped or wilted with the upcoming cold.

“Too late.” Cleo said, then stretched back and got ready to enjoy the show. Eyana gulped, and the front door burst open.

“Eyana!” A towering figure, most of that height being messy brown curls, advanced with one finger pointed at her and a snarl on her face.

“Good afternoon, Astor.” Eyana answered calmly.

“I’m gonna kick your ass!” Astor flipped her hair out of her face, all thin and angular. She had deep brown eyes that were alight with anger, which was not so unusual, and thin, pointed brows meticulously plucked because that was the style in the nineties. With her turtleneck, shapeless coat and mom jeans it was clear she was stuck there in all aspects of fashion. She threw her bag and a stack of folders on a nearby chair and stood over Eyana, fuming.

“Whatever it is, I didn’t do it.”

“Sure.” Cleo said again, and Eyana felt a genuine pinprick of annoyance. What the hell had she done wrong?

“What did I tell you, huh? What the hell did I tell you?” She asked, and Eyana knew she’d answer it herself. “No solo missions. That’s all I ask for.”

“I didn’t—”

“Oh, spare me, honestly.” Astor raised a hand to her and dramatically swept away. Her Staten Island accent came in thick when she was angry (so, almost always), and Cleo, the team’s little Brooklynite, snickered at the nasal degree of her voice and the way she said awn-est-lee with an extra second on the last vowel.

“Is Astor home?” Brienne called innocently as she descended the stairs with damp hair trailing down her back to her waist, then passed one of the many expensive (and stolen) modern paintings in the apartment. “I restocked the wine fridge.”

“Yes, thank you. I appreciate that.” Astor called from the kitchen, more marble with custom Italian cabinetry and a massive, restaurant quality stove used exclusively for baked ziti. Eyana watched her pull out a nine dollar bottle of white zinfandel that not a soul alive could dissuade her from, despite their current earnings. She knew Brienne was buttering her up and also appreciated her trying to get the boss off her back, though she was mystified as to what she did to get on her bad side. “There’s one decent human being in this apartment at least. Feh!”

“Hey!” Cleo said, clearly more entertained than offended, and Brienne wore a fond smile as she began to tie up her hair. 

“We don’t do solo missions. There’s no back-up. If you’re unhappy with your pay you come to me.” Astor said as she fumbled around for a wine glass. “Instead of knocking over a bodega in broad daylight. My foot! Your tuchus!”

Even when she was angry it was a real treat hearing Astor talk: any half Jewish, half Italian Staten Islander had an accent dripping from every syllable, and Astor was no exception. Eyana knew that all the girls felt affectionate and homey about it, so did she, though sometimes she’d get some mocking for it. It was the same with her own harsh tone, the way the girls would tease her ‘ghetto-ness’ in a neighborly, regional way instead of the usual racism she’d get from old dudes in Duane Reade or condescending ladies on the subway. For that she didn’t get sore with the girls like she did those strangers.

“A bodega? What are you talking about?” She asked, and Cleo gave her a flat look. Her temper flared. “For real, what bodega?”

“Give it up, E. There was surveillance footage.” They said, and turned their laptop around. It showed a gif of someone — her? She couldn’t tell — rushing out of some bodega, gun in one hand, a garbage bag likely full of cash in the other. She was blown away: that girl looked so like her for a moment she nearly felt the need to confess.

“That ain’t me!” She yelled, scandalized, and Astor gave her another look as she poured the wine. “Oh, so some other girl’s wearing a track suit and a baseball cap—”

“Let me see.” Brienne walked over to the couch, her hair up in a bun, and examined it thoughtfully. “Yeah, it’s a little hasty to call this Eyana. Especially when we’ve all agreed not to go off on our own.”

Eyana beamed at her kind little friend, quiet but steadfast and competent enough to be universally liked. It didn’t last very long though, because Astor chugged her wine, set it back on the marble counter, and began pouring herself another glass with a stormy expression.

“Of course I didn’t get it was Eyana from grainy surveillance.” She seemed put out that they’d assume such a thing, like they were forgetting who was boss here. A fighter through and through, she had a heart of gold underneath some very necessary teeth and claws. “Multiple witnesses said it was you, in the bodega and down the street. News 12 interviewed a guy that survived the Guggenheim burglary who staked his mother’s immortal soul on it.”

“Well that dude’s an idiot and a liar.” Eyana said, indignant. “I didn’t rob a convenience store, I’m good on bread.”

“Yeah? So where were you while this was going down?” Cleo asked wryly, and Eyana glowered at her. She didn’t appreciate being ganged up on. “‘Cause we hung out this morning, you went out, and now you’re just coming back.”

“I told you I was getting the good coffee. That’s the problem with living in midtown. Fucking tourists and Starbucks.” She said, and they all nodded reflexively.

“So why didn’t you go to Dunkin?”

“Dunkin? Fuck outta here. I’m sick of Dunkin. I got coffee and a bagel, I got cold, I walked The Shops at Columbus and I came back here.” She spoke honestly and silently dared them to suggest otherwise.

“Bare your teeth.” Brienne said, and looked sheepish when Eyana stared at her acrimoniously. “Checking for seeds.”

“C’mon Eyana, just admit it. I’m not gonna be mad so long as you’re honest.” Astor said, and when Eyana didn’t take the bait, furrowed her brow and added: “Don’t make me cancel pizza night.”

“No!” Everyone yelled at once.

“Eyana, just admit to it!” Brienne cried out, and Cleo looked as entertained as they were annoyed.

“This is horseshit!” She yelled. “I’m innocent!”

“My foot!” Astor yelled again. “Your fuckin’ tuchus!”

“We gotta check for bagel seeds!” Brienne insisted, and Cleo burst into laughter.

“It was a plain bagel.” She said, and Astor gave her a skeptical look.

“You forget that I observe all, dear Eyana.” Cleo pointed to their laptop, which worried her immensely: Cleo has seen it all, and being surprised by nothing continually helps to hone her keenness. “I know you like the rainbow bagels.”

Astor groaned like that was the biggest crime of it all and dramatically swung her arms through the air. “An atrocity.”

“I did not eat a rainbow bagel.” Eyana said, then paused fairly. “Today.”

Astor groaned again and Brienne giggled like a schoolgirl. Cleo appeared to be thrilled with themself.

“Alright, alright. Enough of this.” Astor said, then sighed. “Eyana, if you’re not gonna own up to it, just promise you won’t do it again.”

“It wasn’t me, so I won’t.” She promised, and Astor looked sorely tempted to start yelling again, but refrained clearly for her own sake.

“I have to sort through some paperwork, get it digital. Shouldn’t take me long.” She threw the wine bottle back in the fridge, then pinched the bridge of her nose. “Then we’ll get pizza.”

Both Brienne and Cleo cheered aloud, and though Eyana was inclined to be amused she was still annoyed at heart. She didn’t enjoy the false accusation or the fact that no one really believed her when she said she didn’t do it. It didn’t exactly scream justice to her despite Astor giving in to pizza night, which was probably just because she also wanted pizza. She crossed the living room to grab her bag and folders, then climbed the stairs to her study without another word. Brienne hovered for a moment and said something about pizza toppings, but Eyana was concerned with deeper thoughts.

“Hey Cleo, could you send me some of this surveillance footage? You know, stuff they don’t got on the news?” She asked as she turned her attention back to the looped image of the girl walking briskly out of the store.

“Reviewing your work? Sure.” They said, and though Eyana knew they would she was sure it would be on a lark. She studied the image thoroughly: though ethnicity was impossible to spot, the girl’s skin tone, only visible on her hands and a sliver of her chest, seemed lighter than her own, but that wasn’t a true alibi. These security feeds always had wonky colors that ended up distorted or washing people out, being so low quality. Other than that the girl could’ve been her — hell, she might have owned that exact hat. Even the way she walked reminded her of herself, though that wasn’t the sort of thing she’d ever normally notice.

“One of you could try believing me on this.” Eyana muttered, though she didn’t hold out hope. Cleo inspected her idly.

“You’re a great friend and a frightful enemy, Eyana.” They said thoughtfully. “And I’ve never considered you stupid enough to blur the line. But you haven’t been enough, have you? Not for anyone but us. Maybe you think you’re taking what you deserve.”

“You are enough.” Brienne said immediately, then smiled with a little too much pity. “Sure, I’ll believe you. You said you didn’t do it, I’ll take that.”

“Thanks.” Eyana said softly, though she knew Brienne was just being polite. Brienne glowed with a smile — she looked young, and with her tall, trim figure and long lashes around hazel eyes was the most feminine in the group. Her teeth were straight and white like a kid who could afford braces and a chipper young adult who never needed coffee or wine to get through the day, and Eyana knew she’d return to her room shortly to curl her abundance of hair and apply glitter eye shadow just for the fun of it. On cue she departed with a somehow still shy smile, even after all these years, but first pointed to the wet knot of hair sitting at the top of her head.

“Twinsies.” She beamed, and Eyana reached up to her own slicked back hair and bun.

“Yeah.” She said, and looked back to the surveillance gif one more time. “Twinsies.”

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