Bad Town For A Pretty Face: New York, Chapter Two

Things were coming along even better than she could’ve hoped for. The bodega smash and grab had gone off without a hitch, and she’d returned home without a single squad car in her wake. The following day she’d stopped in at a tech store to watch the news on a hundred flat screen TVs, where a man who’d seen the legendary Guggenheim heist swore up and down that it was Eyana who knocked over those fidget spinners and ran. That flattered her quite a bit — she had to refrain from jumping up and down and punching the air in the aisles. 

And she was even getting paid outside of whatever cash was in the register, which was plenty. She took her little car up to Queens and picked up the cash at the designated drop off spot, in an ally next to a barber shop, where she found the cash wrapped in a paper bag behind the dumpster. It wasn’t as much as she’d like, but that combined with her earnings from the bodega register was just enough to fund her next project, and she ended up smiling like a lunatic the whole time she sat through traffic on the LIE.

A few stops had to be made, a few purchases. A beauty supply store where a nice clerk recommended a curly wig. An Ulta for pale makeup and blush, where a girl tried to tell her the foundation she’d picked was too light and she had to fumble through an excuse about cosplay. It wasn’t technically a lie, but she thought the girl maybe thought she was a weirdo — she couldn’t be sure, it was hard to figure out that sort of thing. She stopped by a thrift store for a new (old) tracksuit and at the Miracle Mile for an oversized blazer, a Burberry duffle bag and a pair of leather leggings that must have rivaled what her mom paid for the Scion. But she was endlessly giddy the entire time, so enraptured by the process of planning out another crime as her very favorite criminals.

And this time she was going to plan out the whole thing herself, not just take a job floating out there, which was even more exciting. She had a knack for planning, she was thorough, though prior to the bodega knock-off she wasn’t sure what she was going to do next. Then the clerk told her he’d already paid that month, the meaning of which she only grasped later: he must have been the owner, paying the gang for protection from others. She hadn’t discovered that in her research, but it was by no means abnormal, and when she thought of it it reminded her of another job she’d done a few months earlier. 

She’d been paid a handsome fee to tail some billionaire a few days and report his goings-on, which ended up not getting her mysterious employer the answers he wanted, but she still made a good amount of cash. Tailing was one of her specialties: it didn’t take that much effort to blend in, disguise herself, go entirely unnoticed to the world around her, which seemed to lead her to this particular career in more ways than one. She’d heard whispers of Astor’s gang while following that guy around, and though she couldn’t remember why she did know that the billionaire had a finger in every pie, like a lot of rich men in this city. She’d been tailing him from the UN Headquarters to a host of other businesses, plus a hotel he owned a stake in, and oh, that hotel. That was one hell of a target.

She just hoped Astor and the crew didn’t get mad. That they understood that this was a loving tribute, if an admittedly unusual one. Most probably didn’t consider LARPing a form of affection, but how else was she meant to show her fandom? If the bodega didn’t get their attention, this next crime definitely would, and they would probably love it. She prepared for it in her living room as the sun began to set, though she didn’t turn a light on as the room got dim. Likewise she was forced to ignore the dust on all the bookshelves, the dirty tracks in the carpet, and the bills spread out on the coffee table as she figured out her outfits and brushed through the wig. It all looked so splendid that she was again optimistic it would come together beautifully. Even if Astor didn’t appreciate it she would love it herself.

She took the arduous drive into the city again the next day at sundown, which in the fall was earlier than she liked. It was a good thing her plan involved so many layers, because there was a chill in the crisp air when some weird part of her brain demanded she keep the window cracked. Maybe it was so she could sense the change in the air as she left suburban east Long Island in favor of roads that reeked of diesel, then the outer boroughs that left a metallic tang in her mouth, then again with piss in the Midtown Tunnel until she reached Broadway, where piss mingled with car exhaust and shit from the horse drawn carriages. What an odd place to intrinsically adore above all else, like this city’s eight million denizens currently did.

She paid for a spot in a packed parking garage just off Broadway, where she saw plates from all over the country as she took a space up near the top. It would be hard for any detectives to track down witnesses when they were road-tripping cross-state. Not that she planned for detectives to track her this far, but still, she was a needle in a haystack in here, and that was to her advantage. She mentally ran through her plan once more, patted herself down to ensure she had everything, then hopped out of her car, grabbed her duffle bag and took the elevator down to the street. Broadway was shiny and beautiful tonight, even the McDonald’s all done up in show lights, but she had other places to be, so she weaved uncomfortably through sidewalks crowded with tourists (she absolutely abhorred crowds and in that moment was so grateful for her suburban home) and walked all the way past Radio City Music Hall, past the LOVE sculpture, all the way up to Central Park. It was a long way, but she wanted to park far from her target, and she was so excited she practically skipped half the way.

That target. One of the most famous buildings in New York. She could see it walking up to Grand Army Plaza, encased in marble with flags at the black and white entrance. The hotel where the Beatles stayed their first trip to America, where Monroe was a frequent guest, where Dior and Fitzgerald and Hilfiger had all lived. She gathered herself for a moment, then removed her shades from the oversized blazer’s front pocket, made sure her hair was tucked fully into a beret she hoped was stylish, and walked up to the entrance. Her mannerisms had to change now: she couldn’t be awed by the thick marble walls, exuberant at the beginnings of her crime. She had to be cool and collected as she stepped up to reception.

“Checking in. Cleo Reid.” She said, her tone impassive. The receptionist smiled and said something noncommittal about the weather as she pulled out a room key. Wendy didn’t look her in the eye, which she at least usually pretended to do (it was just so uncomfortable) but she knew Cleo wouldn’t bother with it and was thankful.

“I’ll just need your license and signature.” She said, and pulled something up on the computer as Wendy took her wallet out of the duffel bag — it was an old Comme des Garçons her mother had splurged on four years ago, but she kept it clean and hoped it didn’t seem suspicious. Her fake ID had cost her more than she’d liked, but when the receptionist viewed it without hesitation she knew it had been worth it. After that all she had to do was sign something on a tablet and decline a bellhop’s offer to take her bag.

“I’d like to explore the shops before I go up to my room.” She said carelessly, and the receptionist directed her down the hall with a smile. She departed wordlessly: she didn’t just want to visit the shops. Walking down that hallway she saw a painting in a gold frame of the hotel’s most famous, if fictional, resident, and paused to admire it. Little Eloise, as drawn by Hilary Knight, as allegedly inspired by Liza Minelli. Though everyone knew just who she was there was no plaque to commemorate the painting, the author, or the first painting that had hung there, which had been stolen in the sixties and was about to be stolen again.

But first she had to stake out the shops and food hall, which were crowded thanks to the dinner rush. She was intensely uncomfortable, especially since they were underground, but Cleo never would be, so she meandered through the space window shopping and checking for guards and cameras. There were plenty, but it seemed to be for the safety of the customers and the registers, not that painting a few hundred feet away. After she examined the place as long as she could stand she concluded her evening with a lobster roll and a glass of wine Cleo was old enough to drink, then went up to her room to get a few hours of shut eye before the theft.

Her alarm sounded at three, but she’d been too excited to really sleep. She hopped up immediately, still in her clothes, and made sure she had everything she needed; she packed her duffel, thoroughly wet a beauty blender, and slicked her hair into a bun before hiding it with the beret. Making sure she had everything, she left the room with her shades on and her demeanor cool as Cleo’s would be, then entered the elevator and descended to the ground floor. When she arrived it didn’t take her long to find a door marked ‘Security,’ and she pulled one of her two guns from her back pocket, a heavy Kimber that may not have been Cleo’s exact type, but she only owned the two and didn’t want her holding the same Ruger as Eyana. Bracing herself like they did on TV, she kicked the door right under the knob and broke in on the first try.

She ran down the hall at top speed, though she stayed careful to retain Cleo’s relaxed form since the cameras were still on. That meant whatever guards were within had to have seen her, hence the sprinting, but she got lucky: there was only one, and he fumbled with a taser that she quickly knocked from his hand. 

This wasn’t her favorite part of the plan: Cleo was generally the nonviolent one, being the group’s tech geek, but it didn’t make sense for anyone but her to walk out of the hotel room so this had to be one of the occasional times they got their hands dirty. She got behind him swiftly, put a hand over his mouth, and rested the gun against his temple. His heart pounded against her and she wordlessly steered him to the security feed’s control panel and sat him at a sagging old office chair.

“Can you turn off the security cameras by zone?” She asked quietly, and he nodded. “And the power? Plus back-up?”

He nodded again, and she contained a sigh of relief — this part of the plan involved flying by the seat of her pants, which was never her strong suit.

“Good boy. Power down exterior cameras.” She said, and he started typing on an old keyboard. “Ground floor. Now the concourse level. This room too. And disable the back-up generator.”

He did all of those things, then tilted his head towards the back wall, where a fuse box sat so security could turn off the power incase of emergency. She pulled him up by the collar, guided him over, and in a moment the room was cast into darkness.

“And the power to the phone bank.” Her whisper was loud in the thick silence, and she saw him wince and flip another switch. “Good. Give me your keys, the master set.”

He pulled a large set of keys from his pocket, and when she took them she knew it wouldn’t be difficult to figure out which she needed: it was an old building, so all the keys were mismatched. She stowed them in the hoodie she wore beneath the blazer and guided him back to his seat, where she pulled his hands behind him and used his own cuffs to bind him. Then she disconnected the keyboard and mouse and walked back down the hall, quietly cheering herself on for thinking of that detail.

Once she was out of sight, before returning through the busted door, she took off her blazer and beret, stowed them in her duffel bag, then pulled out a pair of sweatpants to throw over her leggings and large golden hoops to complete the look. All it took was switching up the guns and zipping up the bag to go from Cleo to Eyana, who ran down the hallway to the front entrance. There were two guards and a bellhop standing just outside the entrance, and she needed to subdue them quickly and quietly, so as soon as the bellhop glanced at her through the glass door she burst through it, grabbed him, and put her gun to his head. He screamed, but the guards couldn’t do a thing.

“Drop the batons!” She barked, just as she did the other day and just as Eyana would, and the guards reluctantly lowered them to the ground. There didn’t appear to be anyone around, but even this early in the morning you could assume there were many in Central Park, so she needed to get this done quickly before someone reported a shout to the police. She had to channel Eyana, as forceful and short-tempered as she could be, and quickly she shoved the bellhop against one of the guards. She rushed forward and struck the other over the head with the butt of her gun as he dove for his baton. The other scrambled to get the bellhop off of him, and as he turned to rush her she hit him across the face, then slammed him against the wall. There was a sickening crack as his head hit the marble, and his eyes rolled up in his head as he collapsed to the ground.

She turned to find the bellhop doubled over — he’d gone ghastly white and was throwing up. She hit him over the head as well, but after he fell positioned him on his side so he couldn’t choke on vomit if more came up. There was a planter just outside the door, and she was quick to set a small contraption in it and point it towards the window, then even quicker to take off her hoodie and earrings, stuff the guard’s keys into her sweatpants, and open her duffle again. This time she took out the blender and some pale foundation, and hoped no one inside had heard or cared about this brief commotion outside as she applied the makeup, pulled out the blush, and used her finger to spot it three times on her chin: Brienne often had a zit or two for her to emulate with a bit of red here.

Once she got everything back in her bag she pulled out her phone and readied a recording she’d made the day before that she was admittedly very excited to deploy now — it was all of the gang communicating together, and it would sound like a phone call to anyone as she zipped back into the building, gun drawn, and rushed to the Champagne Bar near reception.

“On the ground! On the ground!” She yelled like she was trying to push her sweetness away, and a tired bartender threw his hands in the air as several guests, likely jet-lagged, climbed off stools and dropped to the tile floor.

“Good! Now subdue the receptionist.” Her own voice called to her through the phone, but different: nasal and heavy with a Staten Island accent. “Cleo, get the car.”

“On it.” ‘Cleo’ said impassively as Wendy turned to the nighttime receptionist, light on her feet like Brienne. She was dialing the phone next to her in vain, likely for security, and Wendy swung the pistol her way before she could think to get her cell phone out. She ran headlong towards her, and the young woman screeched as she grabbed her around the middle and pulled her over the marble counter. The bartender took a step in her direction, but paused wisely, and Wendy was quick to get her against a marble pillar and to stuff her hand into her pocket.

“Eyana, I’ve got her in position.” She spoke in the direction of her phone, then turned to the receptionist and failed to meet her eye. “My friend’s sniping outside. Anyone in here makes a move and you’re a goner. Right, E?”

“Abso-fuckin-lutely.” ‘Eyana’ answered in a harsh voice, and she clicked a button in her pocket. It was a remote control to a laser pointer, and she thought it was a clever way to make these hostages feel the presence of multiple people who weren’t there. It must have worked, because everyone in the lobby tensed up at the little red dot hovering at her chest, and she went deathly pale as Wendy produced handcuffs from her pocket and locked her to the pillar.

“Brienne, hurry it up.” Astor directed. “I need you to let me in.”

“I have eyes on the lobby.” Eyana said, just to remind them, and Brienne stepped away from all of them, certain they wouldn’t move, down the hall she’d been in earlier that day. The painting was just sitting there waiting for her, so she grabbed the ornate golden frame and flung it off the wall with a tremendous smashing of glass. It was by far one of her favorite sounds.

“Brienne, come on. I’m downstairs.” Astor said again, just because Wendy wasn’t sure if anyone would hear her wherever she was at that point in the heist — right on schedule, as it turns out. “The car’s waiting, unlock the gate for me.”

She left the cracked glass on the floor and ran down the hall, pulling the keys from her pocket as she did so. There was a gate, as she thought there’d be, separating the hotel from the shops. It was old copper that had gone green, so she selected a small green key on the guard’s loop and opened the door. Coming this way was by design: she needed a remote place to become Astor. She took off the sweatpants but kept the plain white tee, stippled pale foundation over the zits, and was quick to don a curly wig that she hoped would stay on through this. In an ideal world she would have taken the time to don a false nose, contour her round cheeks away, and paint over her brows, but she was in a rush now and ran down the hallway hoping her practiced accent and distance from the guests would be enough.

“Hey assholes!” She skidded to a halt just before the smashed painting, on the ground where she’d left it, and the patrons on the ground craned their necks to view her in the distance. “My many thanks for your cooperation! now, if you’ll pardon me—”

She bent down and flipped the frame over, sending glass shards everywhere. The painting was unharmed, so she pulled it out of the frame, tossed that aside, and shook glass from it as she stood up.

“We’ll be on our way now. Have a pleasant evening!” She called out, then fired a single shot. A bottle of champagne on a shelf behind the bar exploded, and she turned and walked out with a cackle as people shrieked. She continued on through the shops until she arrived at the exit there, where she rolled up the painting, threw her blazer on, and tucked it in. She nestled the beret atop her head as well, then turned the laser pointer off and stepped out into the chilly evening, slipping character enough to let a broad smile crack through her cool facade.

She was four blocks away by the time she heard sirens, and when she returned to her car off Broadway no one had followed, no one had even looked her way.

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