Party 7-I

FLINT

Trying So Hard.

“Come on, pick up, pick up, pick up,” I muttered into my phone as I paced back and forth. “Pick up, pick up, pick up, PICK UP THE FUCKING PHONE!”

Hi. You’ve reached the voicemail of Natalie Wilson. I can’t make it to the phone right now; maybe I’m busy, maybe I’m dead, who knows? Anyway, just leave a message after the tone. Or don’t, I can’t tell you how to live your-”

I spun on my heels and threw the phone at the wall with considerable force. It left a dent in the plasterboard and shattered, sending spinning circuitry soaring. A bit of plastic pinged off of Jess’s forehead, and she glared at me from her chair. “What good did that do?” her look seemed to ask.

“Well, it made me feel better, alright?” I mumbled at her.

“So how many phones do you go through a month?” George asked, leaning back in his chair, arms folded. He was smirking, but this was George; that was like mentioning that he was breathing or blinking.  

“I’ll have you know,” I started, spinning and pointing a finger at him, but my heart wasn’t in it, and I trailed off. “At least two,” I admitted in a quiet voice, dropping the hand. Even when I didn’t get frustrated and start using them as projectiles, I had the tendency to drop, forget or otherwise render useless my devices. I’d taken to just buying them in packs, which I kept under my bed until I needed a new one.

The confession brought a grin to my friend’s face, displaying a row of uneven teeth, and I gave little smile in return. Jess, however, merely continued to stare down at the table, hands clenched into fists and resting on her knees. An understandable reaction, for someone who didn’t seem much to go for finding humor in bad situations.

The three of us were sitting in one of the side rooms off of the main warehouse that was our little home away from home. A large, uneven wooden table sat in the centre of the room, a relic of its previous function, and a bank of windows along one side gave us a fantastic view of the brick and concrete walls of the next warehouse over. Currently, they were actually clear of sleet or snow, lit by weak sunlight, but the bank of clouds I’d seen on the horizon earlier didn’t bode well for that continuing. The room wasn’t insulated, so the three of us were rugged up against the cold; no costumes, of course. Plausible deniability and all that jazz.

And yeah, I said three, and not ten. You’d think that the fact that we were suddenly suspects in a massive theft, after having successfully flown under the radar for over a year, would motivate more people to show up, but nooooo.

Okay, so I wasn’t being fair. I’d had to do some fairly shaky fast-talking to get out of my job, and I’m good at fast-talking; from what I’d been able to gather, Jess was in a similar situation to mine, and hadn’t been able to handle it anywhere near as well. George had it easiest; he didn’t actually have a job or anyone to answer to. Lis was apparently inextricably tied up in her current contract, but she’d also said that about the time I was being stalked by my psycho ex’s psycho friends because ‘someone’ had hired her to buy pop tarts. So, you know, take that with whatever amount of salt you find appropriate.  

As for the rest, Nat and Shauna were still in school, Ivan had answered the phone, growled something incoherent and hung up, Adib had left me a frantic yet vague voicemail and was now not answering his phone, and of course, our glorious leader was doing her best impression of a stripper’s dad.

Oh, and Sanjay, who I’d not even bothered trying to contact, because he can go fuck himself with a cactus.

So yeah, the Outliers currently consisted of the guy they’d put in charge thanks to the stellar attribute of being the least-shit option, the newbie with the disposition and temperament of an irritated bear, and George. Good stuff.

I pulled out of one of the chairs and dropped myself into it, sighing. “Well, I guess that avenue’s a bust…” I tilted my head to the side, listening.

“What are you-” I held up a finger, cutting George off.

Nothing happened.

“Dammit,” I said, lowering the finger. “I was hoping that would work.”

“Were… you expecting the phone to ring just then?”

“Yeah. Duh.”

“Despite the fact that the phone is currently in a multitude of pieces, scattered around the room?”

“…oh. I may have slightly forgotten that.”

He golf-clapped me, and I raised my hands in mock acknowledgment.

“But seriously, though, I think we might be fucked,” I said, after a glare from Jess. “I really wish Talie was here to deal with this, but at this point I’m not even sure why I still rely on her, considering that she’s been flakier than old paint.”

“How long have you been sitting on that one?” George asked with a smirk.

“Focus!” Jess yelled, slamming her fists on the table.

I frowned, acquiescing. “Right, sorry.” George echoed the apology, still smirking. “It looks like it’s on us to figure out what we do next.”

“Not to insult your intelligence, but don’t we already have a solution in front of us?” George queried. “Can we not just… return the bag?”

“To who?” I countered, then waved him down before he could correct me. “We’re sure as hell not giving it back to the Tower, and even if they did, think through what this means to them. We’re small fry, in the general sense of things, and while they’ve certainly made things irritating for us, they’ve never had the excuse they needed to crack down. It would not look good for them to ruthlessly overwhelm people trying to do good, and if there’s one thing they care about, it’s looking good. But now, we’ve ‘stolen’ a whole bunch of money, proving that we’re no-good reprobates, and they have the justification they crave. Even if we do give them back the money and explain the situation, they’d probably still cart us away, and then claim they took it back off us.”

“How can you know the word ‘reprobate’ but not the proper use of whom?” George grumbled under his breath.

I ignored him. “Even leaving aside the money, whatever’s on that datapad is bound to have painted a target on our backs; with the amount of security it’s got worked in, I can’t imagine it being something we’ll be allowed to keep knowing. That’s actually the only reason I’m not telling everyone to just keep laying low, because sooner or later, someone’s going to come looking for it.”

“They don’t know we have it,” Jess pointed out quietly.

“Yet,” I countered. “Once they get round to interrogating the Cabal…”

“They’ll tell them we took it.” George completed the thought. “They already might’ve.”

I shook my head. “I had a run-in with Edith last night.” George raised an eyebrow at that. “If she’s out, the rest will be. They’ll have to track them down again before they can wrangle that information out of them.”

“Edith?” Jess asked, sounding as confused as one can with her limited emoting. Right, I’d forgotten she didn’t know about that yet.

“Ado,” I clarified. “She’s… kinda my ex.” She gave me a flat look. “No, I’m not joking. It’s a long, complicated, probably multi-part story. Point is, we have a fairly small window before things become a lot worse for us.” I chuckled as a thought occurred to me. “On an unrelated note, we should have someone taking minutes of this to send to everyone else.”

Surprisingly, Jess didn’t comment on my joke. Instead, she stared down at the table, pensive eyes half-visible through lanky hair. “To whom?” she muttered, almost to herself.

“Yeah, yeah, I heard it when George said it.”

She shook her head. “To whom,” she repeated. “Whose is it?”

I tilted my head at her. “You’re going to have to elaborate more than that.”

“The bag isn’t the Tower’s. We return it to who it belongs to.” She shrugged, not looking up. “Seems pretty simple to me.”

I leaned back in my seat, considering the idea. “Not a bad thought,” I pondered out loud. “Not bad at all. Buuuuuut, there are two problems I can see with it. One, it still doesn’t change the fact that as soon as the Tower gets a whiff of us having it, the situation play out exactly the same. And two, whoever the actual owner of the bag is, they are also probably the owner of the datapad, and as such are probably not just going to let us off with their thanks.” She deflated a little. “It was a good idea, though,” I added hastily.

“It was,” George agreed, and I looked at him, surprised. He didn’t usually go for positive feedback. “In fact, I think it’s given me an idea too.” At that, he grinned.

“Are we going to like this idea?” I asked him.

“I think you’re going to love it.”

“Stop being cryptic,” Jess interjected. “Tell us.”

He told us.

I loved it.