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Flapping a scorched towel, she opened the glass patio doors and waved the last of the smoke out. Coughing, Lynnie leaned hard against the granite countertop. Her beautiful kitchen was ruined. The window treatments blackened, her tile grayed and it was all because of those two little beasts.
Silence seemed beat heavily from the other room. She rested her hand against the back of her throbbing skull. The silence worried her. Stepping over her broken china, she grabbed her overturned kitchen chair and placed it next to her leaning table. Tears started to well behind her eyes as a crash sounded from her bedroom. Oh no. Moving quickly through the debris, she pushed open the door to the living room.
Tense and stunned, she froze at the chaos that greeted her. The cushions of her pale blue couch were spread across the floor, stained with food dribbles and yellow stuffing. Crackers were ground into the her oriental rug, words inked across her cream walls. A broken broom lay amid the scattered fragments of glass from her shattered television screen.
They’d been busy while she’d been unconscious on the back lawn. Pain blossomed and spread through her skull as the dim light from the window burned her eyes. One of them, probably the bigger one, had clubbed her in the head with something while she bent down to pour them lemonade. Holding her breath, she quickly pulled back the couch and looked behind it. She exhaled noisily. Empty.
Limp strands of pale blonde hair stuck to her cheek and neck. Lynnie ineffectually wiped them out of her way with the back of her hand. Nathan, her half-brother, begged her for this favor. Begged her and blackmailed her into this. A few hours he said, just watch his kids for a few hours and he’d never bother again. The past would be forgotten. Well…perhaps not forgotten but never mentioned again.
She hadn’t seen him for fifteen years. Fifteen quiet years and he’d showed up out of the blue at the library wearing battered jeans and her father’s smile. That damn smile, she hated that smile. When her father had worn his shark’s smile, it meant that he was going to win and someone would be sorry.
Nathan had grown up into a tall, handsome con man with same ash blonde hair as hers. Yet, that's where the resemblance ended. He’d gotten the charm and the smile and she got the conscience. Lynnie wanted to say no. She wanted him to go away and let her have her quiet life. Nat knew she didn’t want a scene at work and the favor he asked seemed to be a small one so she gave in.
All she had to do watch his girls for a few days while he took care of some business. One could only imagine what kind of illegal activity his business consisted of. When Nat and her were kids, their dad used them as diversions during his thefts. She could only imagine that Nat's 'business' was similar.
If things hadn’t gone so horribly wrong on that last job, she might still be stealing for a living. At least, Nathan didn’t have his kids sliding through open windows and picking locks. Reluctantly, Lynnie had agreed to help him.
Another loud thump from her bedroom brought her back to the present. Ignoring the painful banging in her head, she hurried to the closed door. Lynnie tried turning the knob but it wouldn’t turn all the way. She jiggled the handle but it wouldn’t open. Dammit.
Swallowing her anger, she called out sweetly, “Girls, I’m not mad at you. I just need you to open the door now. Your Daddy will be back soon.” Pressing her ear to the thick wooden door, she couldn’t hear anything at first. Then, she heard a scratching metallic sound.
“Girls! Open this door now!”
Still, no answer. The rattle and quiet click of her closet door didn't make sense at first. Then finally, she understood. That’s what Nathan wanted. Daddy's box. Lynnie had forgotten about the box. She hadn't wanted to remember anything about that last job. The house started to burn with them all inside. Nathan and her had escaped the fire but their Dad hadn't been that lucky. They'd separated and run like they’d been taught to do. Lynnie made it to the rendezvous point, Nathan hadn’t.
Three endless days later, she knew from the television that her father had burned alive and Nathan had been arrested. Alone for the first time, Lynnie had taken the metal box and run. It had their identities, fake credit cards and bank account numbers. From her earliest memory, her father had warned them that the box should never be out of their sight.
She’d used one of the social security numbers to start a new life for herself but the bank accounts were encoded. All this time, that money had been sitting somewhere, collecting interest. Eventually, she’d stop thinking about it. She'd put it in the back of the closet, hidden in a plastic storage crate and forgot about it. Obviously, Nathan hadn’t forgotten.
Those kids of his were just like they had been. Dangerous kids doing what their Daddy told them because they didn’t know any other way to live. That son of a bitch. If he had wanted the damn box, she would have given to him. Nathan didn’t need to do this to his kids, to her.
Head still throbbing, she tried to force the door to open. She’d loved these real oak doors in her little house when she’d moved in but right now she hated them. The thing didn’t budge. Standing on tiptoe, she ran her hand along the top of the frame, fingers blindly searching for the key. Gone. How’d they get it down? She looked around the room and saw the broken broom. They’d knocked down the key and somehow lost balance and took out the television. Dammit.
Pulling open her end table drawer, she frantically searched for something to get pop the lock. She found a large paper clip. She unbent it and dropped to her knees. Inserting it in the old fashioned lock, she tried to pop the mechanism. The dragging, thumping noises had started again in the room. Desperate, she jammed the metal stick into the hole and twisted. Something popped and gave.
The door swung open just in time to see two pigtails disappear out her bedroom window. Scrambling to her feet, she rushed to the window and saw the two girls hurrying toward her Honda Civic. Real terror bit into when she saw Michelle hand the box to her little sister and pull out Lynnie's car keys. She unlocked the door. Oh God, no!
Without thinking, Lynnie tried to slide out the first story window but her skirt hung up on the metal clip on the window. Hearing the motor start, she yanked hard and felt the material rip as she skid in an untidy heap onto her discarded window screen. The metal felt rough against her bare thighs. Scrambling to her feet, she ran for the car just as it awkwardly headed out onto the street.
“Girls! Michelle! Stop that car, right now!.”
The blue Civic picked up speed. She began to chase it down the subdivision. The car picked up speed to about 20 miles an hour then nearly stopped, then picked up again. Lynnie was falling too far behind. Spotting an abandoned ten speed on one of the neighbor's lawn, she dragged it to the road, jumped on and started to pedal harder and harder toward the girls.
Please let them be all right, please.
The bicycle seat rode uncomfortably against her cotton underwear. Each turn of the tire chafed unbearably against her tender thighs but she kept going, praying they would stop. Screaming at them to stop. Horrified, Lynnie watched the car tried to turn at the stop sign. Tires scraped the curb then jumped it. Picking up speed, one tire dropped into drainage ditch. Someone in the Civic punched the gas, the car leapt up, digging furrows into the grass and careened into a tree.
The bike hit the same curb that the car did, it bounced hard, driving the seat into her crotch. The pain radiated up and she turned the handle bars in reaction. The bike flipped. She landed next to it, hurting everywhere. Lynnie crawled toward the car, gained her feet again and staggered to the window. Let them be alive.
Just as she got to the window, she saw Michelle pushing her little sister farther back against the passenger seat. The smaller girl was punching numbers on the cell phone. Of course. Nathan wouldn’t leave them without an emergency plan.
“It’s okay, Michelle. You can have the box. I just want to know that you and your sister are okay. Let me help you.”
Large brown eyes looked at with distrust, she pressed closer to her sister. Both sets of caramel pigtails leaned away from her. Lynnnie reached in, trying to grab Michelle’s arm. Michelle reached into the pocket of her baggy cargo shorts and pulled something out and pointed right at Lynnie.
Luckily, she turned her head just before liquid would have flooded her eyes and nose. Still, she got a partial hit. Damn, damn it burned. She stumbled backwards, fell on her ass in the grass. She pulled up her cotton t-shirt and tried to wipe her face and eyes. Pepper spray.
Her blurry eyes opened to find a teenage boy with a trendy haircut and a black shirt bending over holding his cell phone. He pressed something on the phone and laughed and yelled back over his shoulder.
“I took a picture. No one’s gonna believe this.”
Another voice snickered in the background.
Since she only got a partial hit, her vision was only slightly blurred. The neighbors that were home were starting to fill their lawns, whispering. Making calls on their cell phones. Getting cameras and taking pictures. She had to get the girls out of here.
She had grass and dirt smeared on her shirt and legs. Her butt hurt, her eyes streamed but at least her headache was fading. A tinted SUV turned down the street and slowed.
Nathan. The girls had reached him. She was going to kick his ass for this. The SUV stopped and Nathan got out and ran to the car. He pulled open the door and the two girls flung themselves at him. He hugged them tightly and murmured comforting things to them. Putting them down, they ran to the SUV and climbed inside.
Reaching into the seat of the car, he grabbed the box and put it under his arm. She stepped closer to him, putting her body between his and gathering crowd, blocking their view.
Then, he realized she was there, looking at him. Her blue eyes meet his.
Keeping her voice low, she confessed, “I’d given you the box, Nathan. I don’t care about the damn bank accounts. You can’t get in them anyway. You’ll never get that money. You don’t know Dad’s code either.”
Hurt trembled in her voice but she careful to keep the sound from carrying to the neighbors.
“I couldn’t take the chance, Lynnie. I might lose the girls. I met their mother pulling cons down in Florida. Tricia was so good at the con but after we had the girls, she kept putting them in the cons, Lynnie.”
He tanned face looked regretful, “After what Dad’s did to us, I’d never let my girls live like that. When I demanded she stop, she took them.”
Nathan grabbed a hold of the SUV’s door and swung the box inside.
“Then why’d they nearly kill me to get that box, Nat. This isn’t they first time they’ve done a bash and run.”
“No, it isn’t and I’ll never forgive myself for that. Tricia took them over a year ago. Using them to pull in marks, like Dad use to use us. I should never have told her about how we use to do the bash and grab. When I found them, I swore they’d never go back to her but she’s better than me at this. She’ll find us. We need cash and I needed a clean social security number to start over with. One she couldn’t trace. Dad’s stuff is my only chance to save my girls, Lynnie.”
Lynnie looked at the misery on his face. His trademark smile gone. He hadn’t had to explain. Some part of him wanted her to understand.
“I’d have given you the box, Nat. I would have. Whatever happened between us, you’re my brother.”
Nathan look at her scraped knees, bare bottom and streaming eyes.
“Yeah, maybe you would have. I couldn’t take the chance. Tricia will kill me if she finds me. She doesn’t know about you or the box. It’s our only chance.”
Keeping Lynnie and the SUV door as a partial blind, he unbuttoned his blue dress shirt and shrugged it back just far enough for her to see the half-healed bullet hole. The scar was viscous and red. Someone had tried to kill him. His voice was raw, pleading, “Forgive me, Lynnie. I couldn’t risk it.”
Nathan slowly re-buttoned the shirt.
“Just go, Nathan. I’ll cover for you as much as I can.”
She was exhausted and in pain. She slumped against the hood of her wrecked car. She watched her brother blankly, some part of her felt like she was losing her brother all over again. Nathan stood there staring back. Cop sirens whistled in the distance.
Uncertain, he seemed to make up his mind. He strode over to her like a sleek cougar, all grace and muscle, and pulled her into his arms. He smelled of oranges. For a moment, she stayed stiff in his arms but then she fiercely hugged him back. To not be alone for the first time in fifteen years felt so wonderful. To have someone be her family again.
Nathan pulled away and pressed something metallic in her hand. Lynnie looked down. It was his personal cell phone. He was trusting her with his life, his kid’s lives. He had given her his future. When she finally looked up, his SUV was already in the distance but she didn’t feel deserted. She didn’t feel alone. After fifteen years, he’d finally made it back to her and she felt safe, loved.
She tucked the cell phone into her bra. The cops would be here soon and she need to be on her game. Happiness welled inside and she smiled, that special smile that she shared with her brother.
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