Prologue

            I steal things for a living. 

How many people introduce themselves to you like that?  "Hi!  I'm Bob and I steal things for a living.  Mostly jewels, but some priceless museum artifacts and on occasion we do a bank.  These are my associates, Tom, John and Mark.  Please, feel free to call the cops because I want to be fucking caught.  Have I mentioned I'm a jackass?"

Riley looks like she's going to pull Beck's brain out of his ear and stomp it into the ground.  Not that I blame her.  If she doesn't get to him first once we're alone I'm afraid Tucker will kill him.  Me?  Well, I'll just sit back and watch Beck get the shit kicked out of him.  He deserves it after what he just said.

Maybe I ought to explain some things before I get into why I think Beck should be tortured for seventeen hours straight and then publicly stoned.  I can start at the beginning, alright?

My real name is Hayden Jamison, (and you're fucking crazy if you think I'm going to tell you that I steal things for a living) but I haven't been called that by anyone but my parents for going on fifteen years now.  Since I was ten my friends decided they were going to call me Den and it's stuck since then.  My friends are . . . odd.  I think that's the best way to describe them.  Who calls a child Den?

            I've lived in London most of my life and met the people I work with in high school.  Well, everyone except Riley.  I met Riley in fourth grade when she peered at me curiously after a teacher called me Hayden.  She cornered me later during recess, proclaiming my name to be 'weird' and 'freaky'.  She didn't much like it when I pointed out that she had a boy's name.  That was the day she christened me Den and it was also the day she decided that I was her new best friend.  I should have known better.  Fifteen years later I still can't get rid of her.

            I suppose it's not as bad as I make it out to be.  Daytime Riley can be pretty boring, but that's mostly because she works as a financial advisor and her vocabulary is far beyond that of the other two men we work with.  Nighttime Riley has her uses.  Not only is she our financial advisor, but she also acts as the sexy decoy, arranges ambush tactics and protects Beck and Tucker when they get in over their heads.  If I hadn't known her for so long I'd swear that Daytime and Nighttime Riley were two different people.

            She also hates when Beck calls her Daytime Riley.  It's lucky for him that she doesn't use force because I think she'd kick his ass pretty good if ever given the chance.  Judging by the look on her face right now I think Beck is in for his first good ass kicking by a woman. 

After finishing school for financial advising I asked Riley if she'd ever consider going into business with me.  She agreed and went to training at a Police Academy to learn how to take down a guy twice her size.  I wonder how many people are trained by Police officers in order to become a criminal.

            Beck is a little harder to explain than Riley.  Beck is . . . well, he's a little slower than most.  He's my lackey.  It sounds mean, but it's the truth.  Doesn't every criminal mastermind need a lackey?  Even if I'm not around, Beck would do anything for Riley, despite loathing her.  He knows I favour her.  She's my best friend, how could I not favour her?

            Other than his serious lack of spine Beck is a pretty good guy.  He knows his role in the operation and knows what it takes to be successful.  He's more of a spy than anything.  People trust him with the wrong kind of information all the time and somehow it always gets back to me.  Good thing no one in the city really knows about us . . . or no one knew anything until now.  Sometimes I hate Beck.

            Tucker is the muscle.  He knows how to put together a semi-automatic weapon faster than anyone I've ever seen.  Not that I study guns much, but I've held a few in my time.  I met Tucker in tenth grade, right before he was expelled and sent to a military school just outside of London.  He's smart and he's strong, but he still needs Riley to bail him out every now and then.  She says it's because she's the only woman in an all man team.  I say it's because she's the only one educated enough to see the big picture.

            The man Beck just introduced himself to is still staring at us stupidly.  At least we have some time to figure out what the hell to do before he goes screaming to the cops that we're robbing a jewellery store in the middle of the day in broad fucking daylight.              We're standing in the lobby of said jewellery store wearing masks and carrying guns.  It's what we do but Beck certainly didn't need to tell the hostage that.  It was supposed to be simple.  Get in, smash some cases, threaten some employees and get out.  We've scouted the store; Beck and Riley have used their respective assets and secured a shitload of information.  It was supposed to be easy.

            I hate Beck.

            "You . . . err, I mean, you . . ." the man stumbles for his words for a few seconds before Riley grabs his arm and twists it behind his back.

            "Get the stuff and get out," she growls at me as the man she's holding whimpers in pain. 

He hasn't seen our faces which is good but Beck just told the man his full name which is very, very bad.  As I move forward to finish taking the diamonds inside the cases I see Tucker slap Beck upside the head before stuffing jewellery into his own bag.  Beck looks offended for a second but he quickly recovers.  Riley looks pissed.  She looks very, very pissed.

"Do we need to take you with us?" she hisses to the man she's holding hostage.

He shakes his head and whimpers more.          

"Are you going to tell anyone his name?"

He shakes his head again.

"Take him," Tucker demands, closing his bag and going to the door.  "You can't trust him not to say anything."

Riley looks as if she's debating this for a long moment, then nods and drags the man toward the front door and our van.  It's a white van with writing on the side.  "Tom's Plumbing and Electrical" is splashed in huge bright letters.  That was Riley's genius idea; make the van as noticeable (yet innocent) as possible, then peel off the identifying labels when we get back to the garage.  It's always worked before but we've never come this close to getting caught before.  We're cocky, we all know it, but we're just that good.

"Beck," I say sharply and nod to the door.  "Let's go."

"My name!" he wails suddenly.  "You said my name."

Fuck me.  If my gun were actually loaded I might seriously be tempted to put a bullet between his eyes.  I've got great fucking aim.  Instead I grab his forearm and drag him from the store, throwing him into the front seat beside Tucker.  Riley's finished tying up the guy in the back and she's pulling off her mask in the back seat behind the tinted windows.  It's probably a very good thing I put Beck in the front rather than beside her.  She looks about ready to attack.

            "Riley," I say, climbing in beside her and laying a hand on her knee.  "Calm down."

            "He said his fucking name," she hissed, glaring at Beck.  "He's gonna get us all killed one day, Den.  I didn't come into this willing to die.  We're all too good for him and he knows it."

            I see Beck cringe at this but he doesn't even try to defend himself.  He knows he screwed up.

            "What possessed you to do that?" Riley asks peering over the seat at him as Tucker drives away.

            "I . . . I panicked," he says helplessly.

            "Well, don't fucking panic anymore," Tucker says.  "We have a hostage now.  Do you understand that?"

            Riley leans back in her seat and stares at me.  "This is why I hate doing the job myself, Den.  I told you we should stick with the original plans."

            I nod and stare back at her.  It's really easy to think while looking at Riley.  She's got that kind of beauty that you don't notice when you're growing up with her and then it just hits you one day that she's incredibly attractive and that was the reason all your girlfriends hated her in high school.  Her eyes are huge and blue, and I can find answers while looking into them.

            She's right about sticking to the original plans, I know she is but I just wanted to feel the thrill of the actual robbery itself for once.  You see, the four of us don't normally pull off stunts like the one we just walked away from.  We use Riley and Beck to collect information about any other robberies going on in London or nearby and we let other people do the dirty work and then steal it from them.  It's much easier to steal from a first time robber doing the job for some big crime lord than it is to break into a museum and steal things for ourselves.  We're good at what we do.

            "Den," Riley says, prodding me gently.  "We're gonna get ourselves killed if we keep this up.  It was fun but we have to go back to the way we did things before."

            Tucker nods in agreement.  "I'm with Riley on this, Den.  Beck fucked up royally and we can't let that happen again."

            "I know," I say impatiently.  "I know, okay?  I'm just sick of taking people's leftovers.  Y'know that Frank found out about us, right?"

            Riley turns to me, her eyes huge.  "What?"

            Tucker nearly swerves off the road.

            I nod.  "I didn't want to tell you guys because I knew you'd explode.  He found out a couple months back after we stole the painting from his guys.  He agreed to keep quiet about us and . . . y'know, not kill us if I agreed not to do him any harm anymore.  So, Frank's operating above us now but we've got the rest of the crime circuit covered.  He thinks it's funny."

            "So Frank found out," Riley says, "and you figured this would be good practice for us in case he ever spilled and we had to run for our lives and steal?"

            I nod slowly.

            "You're a fucking prick," she says.  "You should have told us."

            Frank is one of the biggest crime leaders in London.  No one knows his real name, he's just Frank.  We'd been stealing from him quite a bit until he found out about it and called me up, demanding that I come for a 'nice little visit' to his country home.  I went without telling the others because I was sure I'd end up dead and at least they wouldn't have to know anything about it.  Instead, Frank had just demanded I quit stealing from him and told me to go to town on his competition.  I guess you could say we're sort of working for Frank now.

            "I didn't want to worry you," I say.

            Riley just nods.  She's pissed at me now too, I can tell.  Riley never really gets angry at me so I know she's taking this seriously.  She knows I could have died and I think that's what bothers her the most.

            "Don't get mad," I say quietly.

            "I would have hunted him down if you had turned up dead," she replies, staring straight ahead and refusing to meet my eyes.

            Fuck, I love her.

            "What do we do now?" Tucker asked, turning down the road that leads to our garage.  "Do we keep him or ditch him somewhere?"

            "Or do we kill him to keep him silent?" Riley asks, finally saying what's on everyone's mind.

            "We've never killed anyone before," Beck says.

            "Well, if you hadn't opened your big mouth that would still be the case," Riley snaps.

            "I fucking panicked."

            "We heard you the first time, Beck," I say, then lean back in my chair.  "Let's take him inside for now and think about what to do, okay?"

            They all nod reluctantly and slid their masks back onto their faces.  No one wants him to see them after he's already heard Beck's name.  We've never had something like this happen before and it's beyond me what exactly we're supposed to do.  I'm putting my hopes on Riley with this one.  She's the smartest one out of all of us and hopefully she can come up with a better plan than what I've got.

            Because frankly, 'keep guy forever' is a pretty shitty plan.

            Hi, my name is Hayden Jamison and I steal for a living.  I am royally fucked.

End Prologue