Highwind Mall was just a little less shitty than the neighborhood that it bordered. It still wasn’t nice, though. Chicago wasn’t nice.
And, well, neither were we.
Which was why I was in the parking lot of the mall with Eugene and Caspar, keeping watch while Mark fiddled around inside the mall. The lock on the car had been easy—at least, according to Mark. I didn’t know about that shit.
What I did know was that this was the worst place to be caught doing something wrong. “Let’s go,” I muttered. It was probably the fifteenth time I’d said it, but I felt like no one was paying attention. “We gotta move.”
“Relax.” Eugene cheerfully peered out toward the busy street in the distance, arms crossed as he lounged against the side of the car. It was a shitty car. Appropriate.
“You’re telling me to relax?” I raised an eyebrow at Eugene and gave him a flat stare, but only for long enough to get my message across. I was more interested in looking out for security.
Eugene shrugged. “I’m sure no one will bother us. Anyway, we’re just having car trouble. Right?”
“Right,” I answered, sarcastic. I rolled my eyes and peered around the side of the car, again.
I wanted to bang on the side of the car and tell Mark to hurry up, but I knew it wouldn’t do any good. Aside from the fact that Mark was on the other side of the damn mall, it wasn’t Mark or anyone else that was making this excruciating. It was my heightened sense of exposure. We were, after all, in a wide-open parking lot. This wasn’t the best place to be when you wanted to avoid getting shot, much less caught by security.
At least I knew the cameras across the street didn’t work. Barely any cameras in the neighborhood did. If there was one thing we could usually count on, it was that we’d never be caught on camera.
We didn’t just mean the three guys I was hanging around with, though. There were others. Other Rapps—all answering back to Link, the namesake of our sort-of street gang. We weren’t big enough to be players in the game that ran Chicago, but that was how we liked it. The Rapps did business for bread. We didn’t steal for fun. We stole to survive.
Speaking of which, I thought I saw someone coming around the side of the mall. I tensed immediately, but it was just some random guy walking back to his car. Still, I was annoyed. “It’s not worth it.” I frowned. “We should ditch.”
“Oh, come on. We haven’t even tried yet.” Caspar peered out from where he stood at the front of the car, where the hood was propped open. He was pretending to screw around with something, for the trouble we didn’t have. Like his twin, Eugene, he didn’t seem worried. Unlike Eugene, I expected more from Caspar.
“That asshole on the golf cart is gonna come back,” I warned Casper. I knew he, at least, would be more likely to listen to me.
“So? He saw us earlier. He’s not bothered.”
“And if he decides to be bothered?”
“Then, we deal with it.” Caspar shrugged. “This ain’t your first rodeo, Clyde. U is right. Relax.”
It was hard to just relax when I was worried about a dozen different things. It wasn’t just stealing the car that was on my mind, anyway. I was more interested in the aftermath—in how much of a cut would be left over and how much I could save.
This wasn’t the first time I’d gone on a heist that I wasn’t crazy about, just for the money. After all, I always needed the money. There was no other way to help my mom when she was in prison. It wasn’t like I could just call her four other kids. I didn’t even know where the hell they were, or what they were like. For all I knew, my siblings were living the high life somewhere, moaning about their criminal mother.
And there I was again, making myself angry for nothing. It wouldn’t help for me to be pissed when I was supposed to focus on the job. So, I went back to scanning the area, instead of thinking about my miserable family and how much I just wanted things to be simple, for once.
“Is that a cat?” Eugene leaned away from the car, squinting at the opposite street. “I—”
“Fucking Christ,” I snapped. “Pay attention, Eu.”
“I am,” Eugene replied, but he sounded chastised. I felt a little guilty about his tone—not necessarily because I thought I was wrong to remind him we were in a tight spot, but because Eugene had the tendency to do that to people. He was like a puppy. If you happened to make him sad, it didn’t matter why; you were the asshole.
“Security is gonna think we’re up to no good.” I knew I was repeating myself, but I did it anyway. It felt a lot like a delinquent’s prayer, at this point. Like saying it would make it less true. I sincerely doubted it would.
There was a shuffle from the front end of the car and then Caspar’s head popped up. He was grinning. “We are,” he pointed out.
“Where the hell is he? I said we have to hurry.” I knew I was being a dick, but I couldn’t shake the uneasy feeling in my gut.
Caspar shrugged the reply off, like it was no big deal. I only barely saw his head disappear back toward the hood of the car before I turned my attention toward the mall. Somewhere inside, our fourth member was doing some quick work. Mark was good at what he did—it was why he was with us—but nothing could make me feel better about this entire plan.
That was the crux of all my problems. No matter how good the Rapps were or how planned some of our heists were, I could never feel completely safe. Not when the downsides ran through my mind like the worst set of movie credits to ever exist.
I knew firsthand what awaited if we failed. I’d been caught before—never pinned but caught for a little while. It was always the worst thing I’d ever experienced, besides watching my mom get locked up for shit she shouldn’t have.
Basically, all it took was pressure and time for someone to screw you over. As much as I appreciated Mark’s skill or Eugene and Caspar’s twin smiles, I couldn’t shake the constant knowledge that they could all turn on me. Rapp or no, they were kids. We were all kids—young, eighteen to twenty-somethings, with only the next few hours to count on.
Counting on people made you stupid. I wasn’t going to be stupid. Not when my mom was counting on me to be smart.
“You got anything else lined up today?” Caspar leaned away from the hood again, pinning me with an even stare.
I shrugged tightly. “Whatever comes my way.”
“You mean, prowling for unlocked back doors?” Caspar shook his head. “You know how long it’s gonna take you to get the cash you want?”
I almost snapped again. How the hell did he know about the money I needed? I only realized after a moment that he was talking about the pool. We had one, to help support the entire gang. If you didn’t make your cut, you were put under the microscope. We all helped each other out—and if you didn’t pull your weight, you couldn’t call yourself a Rapp.
“Have I ever not made it?” I challenged. Caspar didn’t reply. He knew I was right. I always made what I needed, even if it was just barely.
I could have been making the most, if I didn’t hide away money to send to my mom. But no one knew that. No one knew about her, or what had happened. I was alone in that, just like I’d always been—and I wasn’t about to tell anyone.
“I think that is a cat,” Eugene murmured to himself. I barely heard him.
I decided to take pity on the kid. He really did seem like a kid, even if he was Caspar’s twin. Sometimes I wondered if Caspar had always been the parent between the two of them. “Where?” I pretended to look, but I was still keeping an eye on the mall. “Across the street?”
Eugene hummed. “Yeah. Under the bushes. I wonder if it’s a stray.”
“It’s Chicago. We’re all strays,” Caspar joked. His voice was muffled from behind the hood.
He wasn’t wrong, but I wasn’t about to say that. Instead, I said, “That same guy has come in and out of that back door twice.”
“He’s an employee,” Caspar dismissed. “From that one shoe store.”
“That one shoe store,” I repeated. “Because there aren’t three in the mall.”
“Fuck off.” Caspar’s middle finger appeared around the side of the car’s hood. “He’s wearing that yellow polo. You never been in the mall?”
“Why the fuck would I go in the mall? Why would you?”
“Good place to lift.”
I stared at Caspar. If I stared hard enough, I figured I could burn holes through the hood of the car. “Why the hell would you risk that? You know how many cameras they’ve got in there?”
“You really like cameras.” Caspar snorted. “I’m aware. They also have pretty big blind spots. If you’re careful, you can make a nice sweep. Never too much, though. And you can’t go back too often or too regular.”
“Funny, I kind of figured that part out myself.” As much as I needled Caspar, I wondered if he was right. Maybe I could come back to the mall in a few weeks, just to test the waters. I definitely didn’t want to ask Caspar how he did it or come along with him. The last thing I needed was an inside turf war.
I glanced toward the mall again. Mark was there, but for all we knew, he was already being detained by shitty mall cops. “We can’t hang around forever.”
“He’s doing his best,” Eugene said. He frowned and crossed his arms as he leaned back against the car again. “Anyway, he knows what to do and where to meet us. We just need to be patient.”
I wanted to point out that waiting might be what screwed us over, but I didn’t. This wasn’t the time to be constantly pessimistic. It wasn’t like I was always the downer. I definitely wasn’t crazy, either. I was always just concerned with what was going to happen three steps ahead of what we were doing.
“Oh, fuck,” Caspar exclaimed. I whirled, expecting a fight or at least an argument. Instead, I just saw Caspar wringing his hand. “Cut myself on this damn thing. It better be worth it.”
I was going to chew Caspar out for being such a moron, but I kept my mouth shut. Better to keep watch, I told myself again. I could deal with how relaxed the others were about the job after we got the hell out.
Before anyone else could decide to injure themselves, I straightened up and walked around to the side of the car. “Let’s get this thing started.”
Caspar warily closed the hood of the car, but he didn’t climb into the driver’s seat yet. That was annoying. He was always the getaway driver. If he wasn’t ready to go, no one could leave. “It’s not time yet, is it?”
“It’s almost time,” I replied shortly. “Come on. It won’t kill you to start the car.”
Caspar finally got in, but Eugene hung by the passenger door. He shifted his weight between his feet, antsy. I could already tell what he was going to say. “When was he supposed to meet us?”
“Three-thirty.” I swung the backseat door open and climbed in. I didn’t wait for Eugene’s answer, but the window was rolled down, so I heard it anyway.
“It’s not time yet.”
“Come on.” Caspar was exasperated. He probably thought I was overreacting. “We can start the car and move up a few spots. I’m sure he’s almost here, anyway.”
While I sat, I considered that the car might not start. What then? Could Mark even get it working before we left? I waited while Caspar worked, and then I heard the engine turn over. The wheezing sound of the car starting was like a heavenly choir to my ears. I almost sighed in relief—almost. We still weren’t out of the parking lot.
“Ready.” Caspar cheerily adjusted the side mirror through the open window. He wiped his free hand on his dirty jeans absently. We all probably looked worse for wear, despite the fact that we hadn’t done any real running. We were just used to being perpetually dirty. Life on the streets did that to you.
Eugene hopped into the passenger’s seat. “Is there a radio?”
“Why wouldn’t there be?” Caspar smiled as he adjusted the rearview mirror.
“Someone stole it.”
Caspar laughed. I buckled in while I kept an eye on the mall. I was still waiting for someone to come out and tell us to stop. Half of me wanted to race out of the parking lot and never come back. That was stupid, though. If anyone were suspicious, peeling out of the lot would just make things worse.
Thankfully, Caspar was smart. He took his time to get settled and then he glanced in the rearview, casually moving the gear into drive. “Who’s up for a joyride?”