by Clara Howard, ’19
Assistant Portfolio Editor
A figure leapt across the gap between buildings on 6th Street, landing with a roll on the rooftop of Hayes Financial. He came to a stop and lay flat on his belly, breathing in the gritty smell of the city and feeling the rush of relief of solid ground beneath him.
A few seconds later, though, there was a thud and whoosh of air as a second person landed beside the first. From her roll, she bounced right up onto the balls of her feet, full of adrenaline and reckless laughter. A loud whoop escaped before he shushed her with a smack to the knee.
“Are you trying to get us caught?” he asked, glaring up at his partner. “They’ll see you if you keep jumping and yelling like that!”
She grinned and rolled her shoulders. “Wow, and to think your dossier said you were a risk-taker.” She dipped her head almost comically down to look him in the eyes. “What’s the fun in playing things safe?”
He tugged her down to sit on the rooftop next to him. “We’re not here to have fun, Striker, we’re here to do a job.”
Striker rolled her eyes and glanced around, taking in every inch of their surroundings. “Whatever. Maybe when you stop letting that conscience of yours get in the way of things, you’ll be better at knowing when to follow orders and when to let loose.”
The boy flinched, pulling his hand away and pushing himself up to a sitting position. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
His partner shrugged, keeping her gaze carefully away from his face. “Just that everyone knows you’re not really into this kind of stuff, so we’re all just wondering when you’ll finally break and just quit.”
He was silent for so long afterwards that Striker glanced over at him, unsure whether what she had said had affected him. She found him staring out at the skyline, thinking, she presumed, about what she said. Not about to break the silence, she turned her own eyes to the buildings behind them, waiting and watching.
“I’m not a quitter.” The intensity in his voice drew her eyes back to him. When their gazes met, he held the stare. “I’m not a quitter,” he repeated, “so stop rooting against me.”
She nodded, surprised that suddenly her throat seemed to have closed up. She swallowed, and then coughed, before replying, “Okay.”
He looked her over carefully before nodding himself. “Okay. Now, let’s go steal this bad guy’s software and get the fu—”
A gunshot rang through the air, pinging off one of the metal generators next to them and cutting off his words. The two flattened themselves to the floor, Striker cursing under her breath as bullets continued to fly over their heads. She smacked her partner’s arm and gestured for him to follow her. In an army crawl, they pulled themselves towards the roof-access door into the building. Reaching under her shirt, she pulled out her gun and stood, her back to the boy. “Get that door open now. I’ll cover you.”
He swallowed and went up on his knees, digging a keycard from the side pocket of his cargo pants, trying desperately to block out the gunfight going on above and around him. “C’mon, c’mon, c’mon,” he muttered, sticking it into the slot on the door lock before typing in a few lines of code on his phone. The thin cord connecting phone and card was pulled taut, and the numbers on his screen raced to find the exact combination.
“Any day now,” Striker growled down to him, aiming yet another bullet at their pursuers. As she pulled the trigger, she heard her partner whisper-shout in triumph, and felt relief hit her. Glancing down at him, the two exchanged a grin as he pulled his hacking thing out of the lock and turned the handle. He heaved open the door, turning to pull her through when another shot fired and she stumbled, grunting as she fell against the door.
“Striker?” He reached for her as more shots rang out, and the bullets continued to ricochet off the metal surfaces around them. Ignoring a garbled, pain-filled shout, he grabbed her and hauled her through the heavy metal door and slammed it closed behind them. He looked down at her. “Striker, where’d they hit you?”
Wincing, she turned out of the circle of his arm and leaned against a wall. “Shoulder. I think it’s embedded.”
He looked at the back of her jacket and nodded. “There’s no exit wound, so yeah, it’s embedded. What do we do now?”
“We keep going,” she retorted, looking at him like he was crazy. “The boss isn’t going to give us a break just because I was stupid enough to get shot.” She glanced around the small lobby they were in, weighing their options. “We’re taking the stairs,” she decided. Striker pushed at the door handle with her hip, glancing at her partner. “I don’t want any more surprises.”
The trek down the stairwell was tense. Striker led the way with her shoulder still bleeding. She held the gun in her left hand, aimed high with the safety off. Her partner followed, his heart pounding with each step. They stopped at the executives’ private floor, he behind the door, his hand on the knob, and she at the frame, pistol ready. She nodded, and he eased the handle down, swinging the door towards his body. Striker waited 17 seconds before moving into the opening, her gun cocked as she walked forward silently.
They reached the CEO’s desk and, as her partner went immediately for the computer, Striker stood by the windows and looked towards the ground.
“What’s our exit plan again?”
Striker glanced back at him and went to stand at his elbow, her hip against the desk and her body facing the open doorway. “Well, it was going to be the same way we got here, but that’s shot,” she replied.
He smirked and flicked his eyes up to hers. “Nice.”
She shrugged and turned away. “I’m thinking the stairs are our best bet. We don’t have rappelling equipment and I don’t trust the elevator when we’ve got pursuants.”
His fingers flew over the keyboard, copying and draining and doing all sorts of computer things that she didn’t understand. She glanced between him and the door, the small hairs on the back of her neck rising a bit. “How much longer?”
She opened her mouth to reply then suddenly they heard the stair door shut. Striker stared at him and he swallowed before moving his fingers even more rapidly over the keys. They heard whispers and then silence, and she cocked her pistol.
“Thirty-two seconds,” he whispered.
“Not good enough,” she whispered back.
“Well it’s where we’re at.”
Again her reply was cut off at the sight and sound of two men inching towards them, guns raised and firing. They both ducked down behind the desk. She popped her head up and fired, hitting one man in the knee and another in the upper thigh. “How much longer?”
“Twenty-one.” He winced as a bullet caught the edge of the monitor, shattering the plastic. “Well, zero, now.”
She looked at the mess and nodded. “Grab the flash drive. We’re running for it.”
by Clara Howard ’19
Sam’s pretty sure there are times when she hates him. He is, after all, the most frustrating guy she’s ever known. Everything she says is cause for a salty comeback, and God forbid she stumbles over her words since he pounces on every mistake that she makes.
But then he grins at her and one of his replies destroys any anger as she completely dissolves into laughter, and she remembers why and how she’s falling for him. He may be incredibly infuriating—there’s surely some cosmic reason his initials are B.S. since he’s full of it—but he’s also just as funny and just as kind.
Don’t get her wrong, he’d heartily deny that last adjective since he does, after all, have a reputation to protect. But there’s no denying that he’s kind and loyal and honest, and though he revels in his punk-rock, bad boy image, she knows at his core he’s also an old-school gentleman.
(But damn, does he hide it well.)
She steals a glance at him and has to smile. He’s arguing (as per usual) some finer point of the card game they’re playing, his voice closer to shouting than is strictly necessary in the not-so-crowded basement they’re in.
She meets her friend’s eyes from across the room and rolls her own as the argument only gets more intense. Soon enough the arguing will turn into good-natured insults and they’ll finally be able to get back to the game, but no one really cares enough not to wait for it to happen. Plus, he almost always leaves everyone in peals of laughter anyway, so there’s no motivation to stop him.
She’s about to join in the argument and make some sort of retort when someone else beats her to the punch.
“Oh my God, we get it. Babe, just drop it so we can finish the freaking game already.” Her voice is deeper than you’d think, with a slight rasp that makes her sound like she still hasn’t fully woken up yet. Her pale-blonde eyebrows rise as she flings a card down on the table, not even bothering to hide her annoyance.
“This’ll be good,” the hostess whispers to Sam, sounding exasperated even though Sam knows she thrives on gossip.
“What do you—”
He turns then to his girl, the heat of the argument still alive in his flushed cheeks and glowing eyes as he tells her that he’ll freaking drop it when he proves this guy is freaking wrong.
And hot-damn because she does not appreciate that response. Her eyebrows shoot sky-high as her smoker’s voice sounds out an indignant “Excuse me?”
The response is silence, both from him and the room, with only the music faintly playing in the background.
Sam’s eyes get wide as she watches her glare at him, staring him down until he starts almost physically drooping. The only indication he’s angry is the tightening of his jaw as he looks at her, and there’s an unmistakable promise of “We’ll talk about this later” in his eyes before he breaks contact. The rest of the room is held in a tense silence, everyone holding their breath as though waiting for a bomb to go off. Sam’s almost positive that the easy camaraderie in the room’s been disintegrated, but then he opens his mouth and she remembers that he can diffuse just about anything with his sarcasm.
“Sam, you gonna play your card or you just gonna keep staring at my beautiful face?” He looks up at her and his green eyes flash in challenge.
The part of her that loves him aches right now, but it’s that same part that has her taking the bait to help him save face in front of their friends. She scoffs and flips through her cards. “Get over yourself, Siegel. The only reason I was staring at you was because I was wondering if you were ever going to realize you’ve had chocolate on your chin for the past hour and a half.”
His hand shoots up to his face as the group laughs, and just like that the chill dissipates in the room. People left and right are throwing their cards in, trading jokes and stories and insults like normal. He’s still a little stiff as he sits in his chair, and she’s slumped down on the couch, glaring at her cards with what Sam assumes is more than just your average resting-bitch-face.
She glances at him one more time and feels her heart skip a beat when she notices him watching her. He sends her one of his small, soft smiles and thanks her with his eyes before sliding his gaze elsewhere.
Sighing, Sam falls back against the arm of the couch she’s sitting in front of, cursing her stupid heart as she fights the desire to be anywhere but there.