Just once, I would have liked to get my shit together. Even accidentally. But I could already see that wasn’t going to happen tonight. After all, I am the world’s unluckiest thief. Ask anybody.
Especially my ex-partners.
The long-abandoned warehouse I’d stumbled across had seemed like a blessing, and the worn canvas bag wedged under my spare tire had been downright serendipitous. That was until I started stuffing my worldly possessions into it and the damned thing split down the seams. Out came everything, all over the concrete floor covered with dust and oil and Christ knew what else. The gunk would wreak havoc with my instruments.
As if that weren’t enough, one of the banded stacks of bills popped loose. The draft in the place snatched a handful of hundreds and whisked them off into the gloom in a flurry of papery whispers. Like the building was laughing at me.
“Crud!” My voice echoed in the empty space. I froze, dropped to a crouch behind my car, and listened. Nothing yet. I’d ditched the tail half an hour ago, but they’d find me again soon. I figured Trevor must have had my ride bugged while he briefed me—which meant they’d been tracking me for a week. They knew I’d hit the place four days ago and hadn’t shown up with the score yet. I might have found the bug if I hadn’t misplaced my scanner on my last run.
Since I hadn’t, my only chance now was to keep going on foot. I couldn’t talk my way out of this one.
I kept my mouth shut this time and started stowing fistfuls of bills in pockets. The lost cash would have to stay lost. Next came the essentials: cell phone, Mag-lite, lock jock, cutter, scrambler, electric pick, Bowie, SAK, wire, Magnum—unloaded, of course. I was a thief, not a murderer. Couldn’t say the same for Trevor. He was a vicious bastard, for a fence. Hell, I’d met dealers who were calmer than Trevor. I did jobs for him because he paid decent, but I suspected I’d be looking for a new place to sell my scores to soon. One with a little less psycho in his veins.
I’d have to scratch the clothes too. Not that they were much to look at. Bland, serviceable, meant for blending in. I’d buy more. Though I didn’t need it for warmth, I shrugged into my windbreaker for the extra pockets and headed for the only point of entry and exit I’d seen in the rundown structure. It bothered me, being in a place with just one escape route. Made it hard to formulate a backup plan other than get busted or die . . . two alternatives I’d managed to avoid so far. I hoped this time wouldn’t break my record—but I had my doubts.
Outside, a starless night in Middle of Nowhere, New York, waited for me. I tried to remember how far I’d driven from the last insignificant excuse for a town to get here. In my professional estimation, it was pretty damned far. The idea of calling someone for a pickup crossed my mind. I laughed at it, and sent it on its way.
I didn’t just burn bridges. I incinerated them. Everyone I knew had a legitimate reason to hate me—and none of them were my fault. Okay, maybe that thing back in Albany a few years ago was my fault, but everything else came down to sheer bad luck.
In the distance, a long and low howl rode the breeze, frustrated and almost human. I’d heard enough dogs to know the sound didn’t come from a domesticated breed. A coyote, maybe even a wolf. Terrific. For the thousandth time, I reminded myself that I never should have taken this gig. At least, not alone. But with my reputation, only the greenest punks would agree to partner with me, which guaranteed I’d spend more time babysitting than working. I’d been in this game too long to bother breaking in newbies.
There was another reason I should’ve told Trevor to shove this job. It wasn’t his style. I’d gotten a weird vibe when he laid it out—the flashy son of a bitch always wanted high-end vehicles or fine art or precious metals and jewels. But this score was ordinary. Small-time. Wouldn’t fetch fifty bucks on eBay. He’d said it was for his private collection, but even then, the little voice I never listened to insisted there was something fucked-up about the whole thing.
I considered telling Trevor the truth—but hell, I didn’t even believe it. Who’d believe a professional thief lost the item he’d been hired to steal? No way that unforgiving bastard would buy it. I’d seen Trevor shoot his own thugs for picking up the wrong kind of wine. Granted, it had been five hundred cases of wrong, but that was beside the point.
There was still a good ten feet between me and freedom when the drone and swell of an approaching engine sounded outside. Headlights swept the curve leading to the building and swung around to frame the doorway, pinning me in the glare. Hello, sitting duck.
The engine gunned. Tires screamed as the car shot forward. I darted back into the darkness of the warehouse and took a hard left. The car screeched to a halt somewhere behind me. I turned toward the front wall, held out a hand, and walked briskly until I encountered something solid. Flattened with my back against the surface, and waited.
I had a knack for concealment, a trait that served me well on the job. A few ex-partners had sworn I could make myself invisible—especially when they’d gotten caught and I hadn’t.
Car doors opened and closed. I counted four slams. Trevor had sent a lot more muscle than necessary. I almost felt honored, before I realized the son of a bitch probably wanted me taken alive. Should have seen that one coming.
Flashlight beams swept the main aisle. A rumbling bear of a voice delivered an order. “There. Search his car.” I recognized it instantly. Skids Davis, Trevor’s left-hand man. Left, not right, because Trevor only called on Skids when he needed something dirty cleaned up.
So I was dirty now. Fine. I’d been worse.
I held my breath and inched along the wall. The entrance stood five or six feet to my right, within my grasp. With a bit of luck, I could slip out before the creeping thugs reached my car.
A low shape broke away from one of the goons and headed straight for me with disconcerting clicks. Great. They’d brought one of the dogs. Though I couldn’t make out features in the gloom, its build suggested Rottweiler—and its strut suggested human flesh was its favorite meal.
I’d never been bit by a dog during a gig, but they always found me fast. This one was no exception. He padded to within two feet of me and sat down like I’d promised him a snack. His mouth drew back in what looked like a smile. My, vicious animal, what big teeth you have. Please don’t bark.
The dog licked his lips a few times. And barked.
It was more of a sneeze, actually—but it sounded louder than a marching band in a tin can. Had the thugs heard that? Not daring to move, I scanned the building, convinced they could hear my eyeballs rotating in my skull. The idling sedan’s headlights revealed just enough detail to count heads. One, two, three…
Something hard and cold pressed against my temple. I sighed. Four.
Thanks a lot, dog.
“Hey, Skids. How’s it hangin’?”
A hand made of gristle and steel clamped on my upper arm. I caught a whiff of sour perspiration and cigarette breath when he said, “Going somewhere, Donatti?”
“Yeah. With you.”
“You’re a smart monkey.” Skids jerked me toward the entrance and thrust me into the glare of the headlights. The semi-automatic trained on my head looked like a cap gun in Skids’ meaty paw. “Unload.”
“Come on, man. I need this shit. Gotta earn a living—”
The gun drifted lower. “Unload, or I ventilate your thigh.”
“Fine.” I emptied my pockets, dropping items one by one on the ground with deliberate slowness. As if buying time would improve the situation. Even with an hour to spare, I couldn’t come up with a way out of this. The other three wandered back toward the car and collected the dog, grinning the universal gotcha smiles of thugs everywhere. “I’m gonna get my junk back, right?”
“Doubt it. You won’t be needing any of this. Unless you’ve got Trevor’s item jammed up your ass.” If Skids was amused, his cold features didn’t betray the emotion. “Care to explain what in the hell you were thinking, Donatti? We know you had it. Who’d you fence it to?”
I added the last of the cash to the pile at my feet and glowered at Skids. “I’m not explaining jack to you. Trevor wants to know, I’ll tell him.”
“You’ll have an easier time if you tell me. Trevor wants to hurt you. Extensively. I’ll just shoot you now and get it over with.”
“I’ll take my chances, thanks.”
“Suit yourself.” Skids gestured with the semi. His free hand produced a key fob with a fat plastic tag. He aimed at the car, pushed a button, and the trunk popped open. “First class is full. You get to ride coach.”
“Lucky me.” I moved as slowly as I dared, figuring I had two options: climb in the trunk, or run. If I picked the trunk, I’d have to tell Trevor I lost the score. Not that I knew why the bastard wanted the thing in the first place. Taking the trunk meant being taken to Trevor, where I’d be tortured to death.
And if I ran, I’d be shot. Great options.
I concentrated on the exit. To the right of the crumbling drive leading into the place, a few lone trees provided scant cover opportunities. I could run hard to the left, hope the hint of forest in that direction thickened fast. I’d probably take a bullet before I got out of range—if I got out of range—but Skids wouldn’t shoot to kill. At least, not the first time.
Left it was, then. I tensed, slowed to a crawl. And stopped when a long, low shape streaked across the entrance from right to left, impossibly fast, and disappeared. Was it the wolf I’d heard out here earlier? I blinked and glanced at Skids, wondering if he’d seen it—or if I was just losing the few remaining ounces of sanity I possessed.
Skids displayed no reaction. His expression remained immutable. “Get in there.”
I shook my head. Must have been a panic-induced hallucination. I stood in front of the open trunk, poised to climb inside. Drew a breath. And ran.
Gunfire snapped immediately. I lurched aside, hoping for a graze instead of penetration. I heard a faint, wet pop as a bullet met flesh, but felt no pain, no weakness. I kept moving. Where had he hit me?
An unfamiliar voice rang out. “That hurt.”
I misplaced a foot, stumbled, and went down with a grunt. Rolling onto my back, I located the source of the voice and froze. A tall stranger in a long, weather-beaten duster stood between me and Skids. The bullet had torn through the stranger’s calf. Blood pooled on the cracked asphalt beneath him, thick and black in the red wash of the car’s tail lights, but the stranger showed no signed of distress. He seemed . . . insulted.
Skids didn’t waste words. He shot the stranger in the chest.
The stranger glanced down at the massive wound. Blood practically poured from a two-inch hole in his ribs, and the torn flesh revealed a glimpse of bone. He glared at Skids. “I said that hurt, blast you. Do not do it again.”
The fear skittering like June-bugs through my stomach reflected in Skids’ eyes. The gun shook in the thug’s hand. He fired again. And again. The second time, the gun exploded—and took Skids’ hand with it.
Skids howled. He didn’t sound at all like a wolf.
The stranger pointed at me. “I need him.” The disgust edging his tone indicated whatever this guy wanted, it wouldn’t be in my best interests. “Tell your master that Gavyn Donatti is mine. He is not to harm him.”
Outright terror struck when my name left the stranger’s lips. “How the fuck—”
“Be silent, thief.” The stranger whirled to face me, eyes flashing pure hatred. “Unbelievably stupid . . . if I had no need of you, I would kill you myself.”
Car doors slammed in rapid sequence. I stared past my bulletproof savior and saw the last thug dive into the back seat. The engine revved. The vehicle lurched back, executed a rapid single-point turn and peeled away. I watched them go, too shocked to react.
I should have taken the trunk.