I tugged the hood of my black sweater over my hair and shoved my hands into my pockets. I slipped into the crowd and shuffled along with them. Out of the corner of my eye I saw Patrol Justice standing on the street corner. He nodded to the men as they headed to work. Some nodded back, others stared straight ahead. I raised my eyes and saw the Watchers high in their towers, on the roofs of the buildings.
When I passed Patrol Justice I touched two fingers of my right hand to my right temple. Justice nodded and whistled a few notes. He was ready. I slipped down Locke Alley and uncovered my head. Here there was no reason to hide. They all knew me in this hidden place.
At the end of the alley a door with peeling red paint was opened a crack. I slipped inside and studied the bustling room.
“Hey, Crystal, over here!”
I headed towards Bone Jones booth.
“So, did you get it?” He rubbed a piece of glass with a greasy rag.
“I got it alright. Justice is on his way. Jacker should be coming in any minute now.”
“Can I see it?” Bone Jones put down his rag and leaned towards me.
“Now, Bone, you know if I pull it out everyone from here to the harbour will be claiming a piece of the reward.” I looked over my shoulder and saw that the rest of the crowd was distracted by the entrance of three men.
“Nuts, Kindle and his gang,” Bone Jones muttered. “Just what we need. Keep your head low and don’t say anything.”
I tugged my hoodie back over my head and hunched over Bone Jones’ counter. Trailing my fingers over the pieces of glass Bone Jones’ has somehow managed to make into a thing of beauty I did my best to ignore the man we all called Kindle.
Hot breath flowed over my neck. I struggled not to move. Kindle was behind me and I knew without looking that his blond hair was greasy and tied back with a dirty blue ribbon. A ribbon that used to tie my own hair back.
“Bone, anything new for me today?”
Bone Jones’ fiddled with a piece of glass. “Nothing new since yesterday.”
Kindle sat down beside me. I struggled to keep my hands from shaking. The pain, the fear was back but I couldn’t let him see it.
“How’s our little girl, Crystal?” Kindle lightly touched my angel hair.
“My little girl is fine.” I stared straight ahead, focusing on a spot on the wall.
I knew Kindle was staring at me but I refused to give him the satisfaction of looking into my eyes. The air thickened and I saw Bone move. I shook my head. I didn’t want a fight now. Things had to stay quiet or we would lose the money this job could bring. And Kindle couldn’t know what we were doing or that it was him that had driven me to come up with this scheme.
Kindle and his gang slowly filed away and I sighed in relief. Bone Jones’ laid down his piece of glass and cleared a spot on the counter.
“Alright, it’s all clear. Let’s see it.”
I reached into my pocket and pulled out the small box. Opening it I leaned back and let Bone Jones’ feast on the prize.
I know what he saw. I’d been carrying it around since sunrise. A large diamond set in a gold ring worth thousands. And the reward was enough to feed my family for about a month. It would have to do until the next jewel went missing.
“Crystal, this is great. Jacker find it?”
“You know it.” I snapped the lid shut and shoved the box back into my coat pocket.
Something tugged my hair and I turned to see Jacker sliding onto the stool next to me. He smiled, missing teeth making his mouth look like a jack-o-lantern’s. Eyelids dropped over grey eyes and a large wart protruded from the top of his nose.
“Was it there?” he asked.
I nodded. “Now, we just wait for Patrol Justice. This baby’s going to bring it in.”
The room quieted and I knew Patrol Justice has arrived.
“Crystal, Bone, how is it going?”
Bone nodded and I pulled out the box.
“Justice, we found the Grind ring.”
“Oh, did you now? Where did you find it?” Justice leaned on the counter and studied a glass dog. “How much for this one?”
“Ten dollars.” Bone Jones’ pulled out a small box and a piece of old newspaper. “It’s one of a kind.”
“Bone, all these are one of a kind.” Justice rolled his eyes and passed over a ten.
“How in the world do you get anything selling those things so cheap?” I asked.
Ten dollars was barely enough for a pre-made, pre-cut loaf of bread.
“With the money that baby will bring in I don’t have to worry about selling any of these things for more than ten bucks.”
“Have you called the detective yet?” Jacker leaned towards Justice.
“Going to do it right now.” Justice walked away towards the phone booth.
We had a system, this group of misfits. Something would disappear, we’d find it, keep it until the reward got hot, than we’d play this. Justice would call it in, get the money and we’d split it. This diamond ring was worth thousands of dollars and my share would bring me in the money we needed.
I had to pay the doctor. Robyn had gotten herself hurt again and the doc wasn’t going to come to the house again until he was paid for Robyn’s treatments.
“The detective is on his way. He has the money.”
I high fived Bone and Jacker. “We did it again.”
“How much longer are you guys going to be able to do this without being found out?” Justice asked.
“What do you mean? We don’t steal them,” I said. “We just find them.”
“Yeah, but how long have you been holding on to that ring?”
Jacker shrugged. “About a week.”
“A week. And that necklace?”
“A month. Hey, we need the money. At least we’re getting it honestly. We can’t get jobs anywhere else.” I rubbed Jacker’s arm.
Justice sighed. “Just don’t get caught, please.”
“Me, Crystal, the girl with angel hair get caught?”
Justice ran a finger along the strand of white hair that stood out in contrast to the rest of my dark stringy hair. No matter what the rest of my hair looked like that one section always was immaculate.
The detective came in, the same one as always. I sometimes wondered if they only had one detective in the whole unit of this area. Patrol Justice motioned the man into a corner and handed him the small box. The detective handed Justice a yellow envelope after studying the ring for a good ten minutes. Justice nodded to the man and tipped his hat.
I rubbed my hands together and bounced in my seat.
“Crystal, you’re how old?” Bone’s attached a bracelet around my wrist. “Take this. You deserve this.”
I studied the piece of jewellery. Green, blue, pink and red pieces of glass where twisted into the gold wire. “It’s beautiful.”
Justice sauntered back over to Bone’s counter. “Well, this is it. Shall we split it now? Or wait until this place empties out?”
“Now!” Jacker and I both said.
Justice laughed. Then opening the envelope he pulled out the wads of money. I stroked it gently. It was so much. We had discovered early on that unless we had a patrol man with us the detective never gave us all the money. And Patrol Justice was the only one that gave us most of the share. He only took a small amount for himself.
“Alright, we have ten grand here. Let’s see. That’s three for each of you and a thousand for me.”
“Only a thousand for you?” I looked at him in surprise. “Why not more?”
“Does is look like I need it? Just take the money.” He handed me the wad of cash. “Look, it’s only me where I live. You have a grandfather, an aunt and uncle, two little girls, the twins and Alex and the new one on the way. Jacker’s got family, so does Bone Jones.” Justice tucked his wad in his pocket and strode out of the room.
I watched him walk away. He never ceased to amaze me.
“Let’s get a hot drink to celebrate.” Jacker pulled me off the stool and tucked my arm into the crook of his elbow.
“My, where did you learn to be such a gentleman?” I dragged Bone Jones along with me and we headed over to Sally’s both.
“Hot chocolate all around, Sally,” Jacker said.
“What are you going to pay me with?” Sally tossed brown dreadlocks behind her as she stirred chocolate into a mixture of hot water, hot milk and honey. “A kiss? And you, Bone, another glass trinket? And you, Crystal, another squirrel or two?”
“Nope,” I said pulling out a bill. “Money this time.”
Sally placed a mug in front of each of us. “Did you steal it?”
Sally nodded and took the bill. She trusted me. She may not have trusted Jacker or Bone, but me, I was the one a person could trust.
My hot chocolate had just gotten to the point of drinking temperature when I saw Lance and Trinity come into the building.
“What are those two doing here?” I mutter taking a swig of my drink. “I told them to stay away from here.”
“Those two don’t listen very well do they?” Jacker commented. “Do they ever separate?”
“No, Jacker, their twins and they are always together.” I took another swallow and pushed the rest towards Bone. “Here finish mine. I’ve got to go.”
“See you later, Crystal.”
I waved at Bone and headed towards Lance and Trinity.
“What are you to doing here?” I asked grabbing their arms and propelling them out of the building. “I told you not to come here.”
“Crystal, you can’t protect us forever. We are the same age you know.” Lance yanked his arm from my grasp.
“Mom sent us.” Trinity pulled me to a stop and pushed her black hair behind her ears.
“What’s going on?” I looked from one face to the next.
Lance’s red scar stood out more on his white face. Trinity’s eyes were red and puffy.
“Tell me.” I shook Lance.
He took a deep breath and ran a hand through his black curls. His black eyes shifted away from me.
“Trinity, what is going on?” My heart was starting to pound and I could hear things fading into the background.
“Look, Crystal, Grandpa’s been shot.”
I stumbled back and sank to the ground. Trinity knelt beside me. I looked at her. “Is it bad?”
She nodded. We had been through enough together that we didn’t hide things when it got rough. “He wants you right away. The doctor’s there but it doesn’t look good.”
I scrambled to my feet and began to run. Trinity and Lance matched me step for step. We ran down the street, passed the buildings abandoned for years. Paint peeled off doors, windows where stuffed with rags, brick lay scattered around the foundations.
This was my world and I knew it by heart. This was the place that kept me alive.