Tia Demant, aka Jack, was wiped. Thursdays meant four different classes, spread out over the mile-wide college campus, with barely any time for lunch. Not to mention the study group for History and Politics that started an hour late then lasted two hours too long. It was already 8 pm and Jack hadn’t eaten since the granola bar she had for lunch. Walking to her apartment a few blocks from campus, she couldn’t wait to get inside and finally rest.
At least until she has to get started on the homework due on Monday.
Why do professors assign homework over the weekend? Jack’s thoughts trailed off as she reached her apartment building. It wasn’t anything special—a four story building with stairs and walkways leading to the apartment doors that faced the quiet street. Some tenants had tried to liven things up with welcome signs hung on doors or potted plants sidled up under the windows. There were at least a dozen other complexes just like it in the neighborhoods around Los Prados University.
Jack stood at the bottom of the metal stairs. Her apartment was on the fourth floor. With a huff, she braced herself and pasted on a smile before sprinting up the stairs as fast as she could. A force of habit, but this time she was too tired to keep track of time and see if she could break her record. Climbing the balcony railing would have been faster anyways (not that Jack does that often. Only when she’s really in a rush).
With a mad climb up the noisy stairs and a dash down the walkway, Jack shoved a key in the lock and threw open the door.
“I’m hooooome!” Once inside, Jack help her arms out and panted to catch her breath, like a gymnast who just finished a tough routine. The smile never left her face. How could it? She had just come home to the most beautiful woman in the world.
“Hey. What, did you run all the way here?” Ryder Destry, Jack’s roommate, responded from the living room couch. She was looking over a map, probably for work. She held it open as she leaned back, feet up on the coffee table and steel-toed boots left at the ready nearby. Her leather jacket matched her dark, silky hair that rested to the side on one shoulder. Her shining eyes looked back at Jack, waiting for an answer but teasing all the same. A small smirk even graced those red-painted lips, making Jack’s heart skip a beat. But this was Ryder, her roommate for more than a semester now. Jack was definitely not in love with her.
Without an answer from the out-of-breath student, Ryder carried on, “By the way, since you were coming home late, I left dinner on the counter for you.”
Scratch that-- Jack was completely, deeply, hopelessly in love with Ryder Destry.
“My hero!” Jack spun on her way to the kitchen, dropping her book bag on the counter on the way. It only took a few steps; the apartment was not very big, with one bedroom, a bathroom, and a kitchen/living area. The furniture was nothing fancy, mostly things that the girls either got from their parents or from local second-hand shops.
“By the way, I’m going to work in a few minutes. Just got another job this morning.” Ryder said as she looked back at her map of the city. Sometimes she took on odd jobs as a carrier, transporting packages around the city. It wasn’t the most reliable job, but it was something she could do to get some extra cash.
Jack climbed onto the couch, a still-warm plate of grilled fish and canned carrots in hand. “You’ve been getting a lot more work lately. Is it that Wesley guy again?”
“It’s Wechsler. And yeah, same guy,”
Jack paused from eating to give Ryder a suspicious look, squinty eyes and doubtful pout included, “And what are you transporting for him this time?”
Ryder saw the “glare” and only let out a short laugh. It was as beautiful and clear as a choir of bells.
“What’s with that look? Are you worried I’m doing something illegal? I’m just delivering packages.” With that, Ryder folded up her map and reached for her boots.
“So you don’t know,” It was a statement, not a question. Jack watched as Ryder stood up with a shrug and took her white motorcycle helmet from the coat rack by the door. “Aren’t you ever curious about what it is you’re delivering? What kind of stuff are you even carrying around?”
Ryder tucked her helmet under one arm and grabbed a second from the rack—a black half-helmet with a leather strap. “If you’re so curious, you could come with me this time,”
There was no way Jack could say no to that gorgeous little smirk. She shot up from the couch, last bite of dinner already gone. “I’ll go get changed!”
“This is the place,” Ryder flipped down the brake stand on her teal Victoria KR 3. Jack hopped up as fast as she could, taking in the fine establishment in front of her. Okay, “fine establishment” was a total lie. The girls were in an alley, hidden far from the street by a series of turns. The establishment in front of them seemed awfully out of place in an alley—its ornate wood door was flanked by two Corinthian columns and stained-glass lanterns lit up the small area. A ritzy establishment in a hidden location.
“OOhhhh, is this one of those speakeasies?” One could practically see the sparkles in Jack’s eyes. These underground bars were illegal, yes, but they had been the talk of the town recently as most people ignored Prohibition in favor of these small, luxurious hangouts. She turned back to Ryder, “So you are doing illegal stuff!”
Ryder just rolled her eyes. “I’m just picking up a package. Nothing more than that,” She said. Jack didn’t seem any less fascinated by the prospect.
“We’ll just get in, pick up the package, get the delivery address, then drop it off there. Simple,” Ryder explained, “We won’t even need those weird ‘roller skate shoes’ you insisted on bringing.” She shot Jack another teasing smirk.
“Hey, it’s roller blade shoes. There’s a difference. Also, they’re super useful”
“Was the matching jacket necessary too?”
Jack felt a blush creep onto her face. So maybe when she was changing earlier, she decided to wear jeans and a leather jacket just like Ryder. The only real difference was the neckerchief that Ryder wore. But she was joining Ryder at work and it made sense for coworkers to wear matching outfits, right? Right… Jack hoped it was too dark to see her blush.
“Let’s just get going, okay? We’re on a schedule, right?” Jack tried to hide her fluster with a smile and a jaunty walk up to the door. She knocked twice and waited. No answer.
Ryder let out another small, gorgeous laugh and walked up to the door herself. “You need to know the right way to knock,” she explained.
With one slow knock and two quick ones, the door was opened, shining light onto the two young women.
“’Evening,” the mountain of a man on the other side of the door stood aside to let Ryder and Jack pass. Jack looked at him curiously as the girls went by but made sure to stay behind Ryder. It was easy, considering Ryder is nearly a full head taller than Jack. But the two women looked like midgets compared the guard. The man looked like he could snap a log in half! He didn’t say anything more and let them go on their way.
The girls walked down the narrow yet tastefully decorated hallway, fancy sconces lining the walls and one carved wooden door at the end. Ryder leaned over to Jack and whispered, “Just stay behind me and watch. We won’t be here long.” Jack nodded nervously. She couldn’t help but feel a small thrill of excitement. What kind of people would they meet in a place like this?
The answer came to her as Ryder led her through the door at the end of the hall into an equally ornate room. At the dimly lit yet tastefully decorated bar stood three men: one whose clothes gave him away as the bartender, a short one with a fine suit that seemed out of place next to his crooked teeth, and one nearly as mountainous and the guard by the front door (or back door, as it were). On top of that, each of these men looked as suspicious as Jack would have expected from a place like this. The glint in their eyes could scare away a puppy.
With two strides of her long legs, Ryder halved the distance between her and the men. Jack took notice of the way Ryder didn’t come within arms reach of them. She also decided to stay half a step behind the more confident woman.
“Yous here fer the deliv’ry?” The crooked-toothed man asked, straight to business. Apparently not much of a gentleman.
“Yep, just need the package and the drop-off location,” Ryder replied nonchalantly. She was always so cool under pressure!
The bartender silently nodded and brought out a metal lock box from behind the counter. Mountainous Man #2 passed it along to Ryder with one hand with ease.
Ryder then handed it off to Jack to hold. She took it and looked at it curiously. Surely Ryder had to question the contents of her packages from time to time, right? And who sent packages in a heavy lock box instead of just a cardboard box? Jack rummaged around in her pockets- she was sure she had a hairpin in there somewhere.
“And the address?” Ryder continued as if there wasn’t something clearly illegal going on here. Jack shifted behind Ryder a bit more, out of direct sight of the men.
The crooked-toothed man answered again. Was he the only one in this building who was allowed to speak in full sentences or something? Unfortunate. “Corner a’ Paza Street n’ Daylight Avenue. We needs it there by midnight.” Ah, Jack recognized that place: the National Bank of Los Prados. It was a big marble building right in front of a big roundabout so it was hard to miss. What kind of package could these sleaze bags be delivering to such a ritzy place?
The answer came to Jack in the form of what seemed to be several hundred dollars packed neatly in the previously locked box. Really, picking a single lock like that was just too easy.
“Huh,” Jack’s short sound of discovery was followed by a shocked silence. Even Ryder had turned around with a pale face and widened eyes. It was short lived, however, before the crooked-toothed man’s face twisted into a crooked snarl and he marched right up to the girls.
“Whatta ya doin’, huh? Yous knows that ya ain’t s’possed to open the packages. It’s the first rule a’ working with Mistuh Wechsler!”
Ryder took half a step back, arm out to make Jack do the same. “Come on, now,” she said, “it was just a mistake. The box must not have been locked properly. A simple mistake. Right, Jack? ” Her look back towards the other girl made it clear that she did not believe that the box opening was anything but intentional. Jack was starting to regret showing off her lock picking skills to Ryder in the past. Now there was no denying it.
Crooked-teeth took this as an opportunity to point an accusing finger at Jack. “Are you twos sayin’ that my men here would make a mistake like dat? Mistuh Wechsler promised me the best carrier he had and now look! You twos are makin’ a mock’ry a’ my upstandin’ business!”
Jack couldn’t stop herself from letting out a snort. Everyone else in the room stopped at the unexpected response from the girl. “Upstanding business? What kind of upstanding business needs to launder money through a dirty bank?”
“What? You do a lot of jobs for this Wechsler guy. If they’re all like this, with illegal businesses sending money to the bank and whatnot, it means the bank is the one doing the money laundering. They probably take a cut from each business then give the rest back disguised as a legit investment.”
“I’m just saying: no one would question the biggest bank in town.”
Jack’s quick thinking and disregard for social queues would be the end of Ryder one day, surely. For now, they led to a very short and very red-faced man whose teeth were only going to get worse with how much he was grinding them.
“Now,” the man began,” Yous twos are gonna give me back dat box an’ then you’re gonna leave an’ pretend like none a’ this evva happened. Capiche?”
Ryder sighed in defeat, “Yeah, alright.” There goes her paycheck for tonight. “Jack?” She turned towards the shorter girl, holding out her hand expectantly. She could have guessed what would happen next based on Jack’s nervous smile.
“Jack, don’t you dare-“
Jack closed the lock box with a quick thunk.
“Run!” She took Ryder’s hand, tucked the box under her other arm, and made a mad dash towards the door. They faced their first problem almost immediately: in the narrow hallway, their exit from the building was completely blocked by Mountainous Man #1. Judging by how he looked ready for a fight, he had already figured out something was wrong.
“Don’t let them dames leave!” Crooked-teeth had entered the hallway, followed shortly after by Mountainous Man #2. Both guards advanced slowly, leaving Jack and Ryder little room to escape.
“Heh, now yous done it,” Crooked-teeth gloated from a safe distance, “My guys here are gonna have ta take yous ta Mistuh Wechsler so we can explain the situation. Yous bettta hope he’s in a good mood tonight.” That man just would not shut up, huh?
Despite the dire situation, Jack stood up tall and gave a bright grin. She could get Ryder and herself out of this.
“You know what? I’d like to meet this Wechsler guy,” Jack took a second to heft the heavy lock box up by her shoulder, “but on my own terms.” At that, she launched the box into the air, down the hallway, straight into the head of the man blocking the exit.
He fell like a great sequoia. Jack was just surprised he didn’t leave a dent in the floor.
Taking their chance, Ryder and Jack dashed towards the door, right over the fallen man. Whether or not their steps caused him a few bruises wasn’t really a concern at the moment. On the way, Jack also scooped up the lock box.
“Why are you bringing that!?” Ryder asked as she grabbed their helmets off the handles of her Victoria.
Ryder hoisted herself up onto the motorcycle, starting the engine at the same time. Jack followed suit and the two were zipping out of the alley before the men could leave the building.
“Heh, that was a close one. Are your jobs always like this?” Jack said over the roar of the wind. The lock box was still tucked under one arm.
She couldn’t see Ryder’s face under the helmet visor, but her angry tone of voice was enough to give away her expression, “Why did you have to go and open that thing? My job depends on me being able to deliver these things, no questions asked!”
Jack decidedly did not like seeing Angry Ryder. Yet she responded in kind.
“Oh, come on. Those guys were obviously involved in some bad stuff. I was just-“
Jack was interrupted by the sound of screeching tires as a red Roadster turned onto the street behind them, cutting off traffic and speeding towards the motorcycle. Out of the passenger window, a very familiar set of crooked teeth sneered at the girls.
“ On it!”
Putting her Victoria to the test, Ryder picked up speed and started weaving through traffic. They were nearing the city center, where even at this hour vehicles filled the streets.
“Go left here!” Jack pointed at the upcoming intersection. Ryder did, barely slowing down enough to make the turn.
“Why, where are we going?”
“To the National Bank of Los Prados of course!”
“You want us to go to the people who probably want us killed? Are you insane!?”
“I have a plan! The bank’s offices overlook a roundabout, right? That one with the fountain.”
“I don’t see where you’re going with this,” Ryder continued to speak up over the wind while managing to stay ahead of the Roadster still following intently.
“Just get those guys to follow you to the fountain and I’ll handle the rest.”
Just ahead, the roundabout in question was coming into view. With little time to come up with another idea, Ryder obliged.
Paza street and Daylight Avenue met at roundabout rather than an intersection. Three lanes of spinning traffic circled a brick courtyard, outlined by iron railing, where a three-tiered fountain sat in the center of it all and sparkled under the lamplight. This particular part of town housed a ritzy commercial district. Even now, pedestrians window shopped at the department stores lining the streets.
However, one corner of the block was taken up by the bank, it’s marble front wall and columns curving into a concave half circle to match with the circular road in front of it. The building was clearly designed for this particular spot, a symbol of monetary gain in the middle of the commercial district.
And with nine floors of windows curving around the center courtyard, this Mr. Wechsler character had a clear view of the well lit fountain.
As Ryder entered the roundabout, she was forced to slow down with the other cars crowding the circuit. The same could be said for the pursuing Roadster. At the very least, the girls might be able to lose them in the twirling crowd.
Jack, lockbox still in hand, maneuvered her right leg to the left side of the motorcycle seat, ready to jump. “Just keep circling around then pick me up after!”
“After what exactly?” Ryder asked.
“You’ll see!” Jack have a charming smile before activating her roller blade shoes and hopping down to the street, rolling alongside traffic. She gave one last smug smile to Ryder. Given a less dire situation, the older women would have rolled her eyes in response. Instead, she zipped ahead of Jack, intent to stick to the plan.
Jack lagged behind, skating between the passing cars and ignoring the honks from surprised drivers. Soon, the Roadster caught up to her.
Mountainous Man #2 drove while Crooked-teeth sat in the passenger’s seat, whipping his head around in search of the girls. He was looking around so frantically, he didn’t even see when Jack rolled up to the passenger window and gave it a knock
Needless to say, the man was surprised. He even jumped enough to hit his head on the car’s ceiling. Luckily the man driving was not so jumpy. Jack held up the lock box and gave the two a friendly wave.
“GIMME THAT BACK!”
The loud yell could be heard even through the glass. At that moment, Jack rushed to skate faster, cutting in front of the Roadster and to the left, hopping over the iron railing of the center courtyard. Instead of following any form of traffic laws, the men decided to come to a screeching halt in the middle of the road before throwing the car doors open and pursuing on foot.
Jack stopped just by the fountain to take in the scene. Cars were swerving around the stopped Roadster and honking at the sudden disruption. Pedestrians on the outer sidewalks of the circle turned to look at the commotion. Crooked-teeth didn’t seem to care.
“Gimme dat box now and maybe I won’t have ta tell Mistuh Wechsler about all dis,” He said, stopping just a few feet from Jack. The mountainous man behind him cracked his knuckles menacingly, as if Jack didn’t really have any other option. She did, of course.
Jack started up skating again, slowly starting to circle the fountain. She put up a finger to her chin, pretending to think. “Hmmm… how about…. I don’t do that.”
“Then my friend here is gonna have ta take it!”
And at that, the mountainous man charged toward Jack. Or at least he tried to. She deftly skated out of the way. The man’s momentum led him to faceplant directly into the fountain, head and shoulder slamming into the water. By the time Jack had circled the fountain once, he was back on his feet and dragging puddles of water onto the brick courtyard.
The man tried to take another swing at Jack, but she only ducked and continued skating in circles, gaining speed and leaving lines of water on the ground.
“Stop messin’ with us!” Crooked-teeth yelled after another failed swing from his companion.
Jack didn’t slow down but responded anyway, “Well, alriiiight.” The grin on her face was not reassuring to the two men.
Jack picked up the pace. Speeding along the edge of the courtyard, she once again opened the lock box. This time, bills came flying out like confetti. They started fluttering around in traffic, but the wind from the bustling cars brought them even farther. After just two laps around the courtyard, hundreds of bills were carried across traffic and to the populated sidewalks.
Excited screams rang out as shoppers grabbed at the falling bills. Drivers even stopped their cars and got out to get their own shares. The intersection of Paza Street and Daylight Avenue was suddenly turned into a sight to behold and people grabbed for the dispersed currency.
Jack came to a rolling stop a few feet from the two men, but they hardly noticed. They were too busy racing around to try and pick up some of the closer fallen bills. She gave a shrug, open and empty lockbox hanging from one hand.
“Oops,” she said with an unapologetic smile.
Looking up at the National Bank of Los Prados, Jack could see a number of figures gazing out the windows, marveling at the sight below. One stood out though: a single figure on the top floor.
Mr. Wechsler. The man behind who knew how many schemes across Los Prados. A corrupted man, quite literally standing at the top of the city’s economy. Jack could only imagine the look of anger on his face right now as he saw one piece of his underground empire exposed to the world.
Maybe, Jack thought, she should expose the rest of it too.
Edward Wechsler was not a happy man. Not now, nor on the best of days. He looked down at the courtyard with a rigid jaw and a disapproving glare. He could see the grunts who had botched their payment, the men still bumbling after what cash remained drifting around the area. Already, police would be on their way to try and tame the commotion. Then there would be an investigation into where the money had come from.
Oh well; the city would have one less speakeasy and Wechsler wouldn’t have to worry about getting rid of clearly incompetent underlings himself. Even if they talked to the police, the banker knew they wouldn’t find any evidence in his records. Besides, it wasn’t as if he didn’t have other forms of income.
For now, he could let one slip up slide. But still, he was not happy a happy man.