Nicky Nicked Needles and Nickels
13yo Nicolett is a kind, careful, peculiar pickpocket, and a dabbler in the illegal substance market. She decides to end her thieving days, only after digging in the pocket of the wrong person. Who is chasing her, and what did she really steal?
The morning of my thirteenth birthday was a cold, boring, quiet day. Or at least, it was until I answered a call from a cellphone that was not exactly mine, telling me I was going to die—me, not the previous phone owner.
Wait, do you know my name? I am Nicolett Dove, though everyone calls me Nicky, or my business partners call me Nicotine. Sorry, I keep forgetting my manners. Anyway, I started the day out as usual, waking up to the cold Germany air leaking through my rickety window frame, promptly rolling over and dozing off for a few minutes longer. I peeked out of my covers, risking a kiss from the chill air, to gaze at my wall of trophies; all the blues and silvers and pearly whites of my treasures covered the far wall in my small room. I have a love for deeply colored things or silvery items; there is a beautiful nickel tower in the corner of my room, hundreds of nickels all stacked up to form little silvery bricks. To name a few of the items on my wall, I had a neat navy-blue cap, at least twenty plastic bracelets, a few tiny diamond rings and numerous mismatched earrings strung together like a Christmas decoration, and a shiny bunch of bottle caps glued to a painting on the wall. Junk? It is not! Oh, the things you find in peoples' pockets these days. I have also collected a tangle of electric cords, hair berets, scrunchies, and credit cards, hidden away in places beneath the floorboards. Sometimes I sell the stuff I cannot put on my wall; like the needles. Syringes, canisters, baggies, and dollars go to those people who call me Nicotine. In some pockets and purses I find used needles or sealed ones, little plastic bags of powder, and other things, then I take those finds back to my friends on Mole Street to exchange. If I bring five or six needles or two little baggies, I can get something new for my collection, or I can get some food, if I am too hungry to notice the bad taste.
Or sometimes, I use the needles, too. I mean, taking spare stuff from people is fine—look at them, they have enough. Maybe if they really need their nickels and needles, they can steal from me or my friends on Mole Street, too, and the cycle will go on forever, and we will all be happy. But, using needles can be tricky sometimes. It is not so bad to find a vein in my ankle and all, so my parents can't see, but usually I cannot really tell what is in those needles. One time, I took a shot of something so strong, I think I had a seizure. I had a really good nap afterward, but it shook me up a bit. I have to be careful when I take that stuff, so no one will find me passed out or seizing up. Maybe I should stop using needles altogether. Maybe, I guess.
I woke up a third time freezing, ravenous, and having to go to the bathroom real bad. So I dragged myself out of bed at last, wearing my day clothes as I always do to help keep warm and be ready to leave out the window, if I heard my dad shouting at mom downstairs. I could not imagine anything worse than hearing my dad's big feet pounding up the stairs, heading for my room, to come and shout at me or tell me, again, that he was going to take me from mom, all the while wearing just my shirt and underwear. He usually pushed, dragged, and persuaded me toward the door until he gave up, cried, and told us how sorry he was. I think it's because he drinks too much. How glad I am that I do not drink, I just take a few doses now and then.
So I made it to my bathroom with icy toes, and proceeded with my morning routine; toilet, sink, then brush my crazy black shoulder-length hair. After finishing that, I went back to my room to look at my stash; no needles or valuable things. It was Saturday, and only Billy would be out to exchange things with me for food. Sometimes Pooch was out in the morning, she is a nice lady with glamorous clothes, though I call her Pooch because I can't say the other word they call her. She might share food with me, if she had earned enough money last night to buy some this morning. That was such a small chance, though, and I was starving… I moved back a broken floorboard near my narrow bed, and grabbed some shoes. They were worn and quiet tennis shoes, a little big for me, but they were the best I had ever borrowed. I slipped them on over my cotton socks and dug out a sweater to pull on over my long sleeved shirt. Now equipped in thick sweatpants, a sweater, and shoes, I snatched up my satchel and left through the front door of my modest home. It wasn't a bad place; the house was in decent condition and had only a few rats, but my parents were struggling to keep it. Ignoring this, I skipped out to the cobblestone street. The cloudy sky made the world look steel-gray everywhere. Sun rarely shone in this part of town anyway, and I could not remember having been outside the gloomy town. I loped into an alleyway and kept prancing along.
I stopped and looked over my shoulder. An old, gritty man dressed in a huge coat waved at me. He wore a stained green cap and a dirty pair of glasses. Beneath a scruffy beard he wore a benign expression on his crumbly face. I waved back. "Hi, Billy!"
"Just the girl I was looking for! Heading out so early?"
"Yeah," I shrugged. "Off to find some stuff to trade you for breakfast."
Billy grinned. "That's what I like to hear. Alright, lass—come back before I leave for the Humphrey Avenue, will you?"
Nodding, I agreed and scampered off. I arrived at the other end of the alley, facing north. In front of me was a fairly quiet street, with so many people already off to the forestry or other places of work. I crept along softly, casually, looking around for opportunities. The squat buildings crouched only one or two stories tall, I liked to pretend they were carnivorous plants made out of old wood and brick. They were withering plants, infested with the insects of society; crippled folk, drunk folk, all the others who the modern-day bourgeoisie stepped on and sought to exterminate. I imagined I was a little panther, gliding along in the shadows. I unhappily surveyed my surroundings once more after traveling all the way up to a rusty stop sign—more than ten yards from the alley. I was beginning to trek out of my home zone, into the area of workhouses and shifty businesses. A scavenger similar to myself slunk along the opposite side of the street, a man and his burly dog walked carelessly ahead of me. Why wasn't anyone else out today? I know pickings are slim, but…
I heard a low rumble from the sky, and realized even fewer people were out today due to a coming storm. The sky was always sad around here, I could never tell if it would rain or not. I looked from the clouds to the path ahead again. I jumped, just a tiny bit, as I saw the pair ahead of me, the man and his dog, had stopped and were looking right at me. Well, the dog was, maybe the owner was only stopped when the big pale mastiff decided to stand still and was simply looking at what might have caught the dog's attention. Whatever the reason why, they did not stop for long; the man tugged on the dog's thick leash and managed to get the beast lumbering onward again.
Almost as loud as the thunder, my stomach growled. I sighed and trudged off in the opposite direction. My legs went at a brisk pace to ignore the aching in my empty belly. I was wary about trying to swipe something in the street I was approaching; this one was where the paper-boys went, the bank was nearby, the grocery market was, and overall a whole lot of hustle and bustle. Policemen patrolled the fruit stands and kept an eye out for sticky-fingered kids like me. I would hate to be caught… especially since both my parents knew these patrolmen. My father worked as a policeman farther off, some place even darker and apparently dangerous, while my mother worked in the military—I never bothered to ask more of their occupations. They didn't want to talk about it. I knew I could not take the risk of stealing from a market stand, but I could sweet-talk a person after bumping into them, and then… Yes, I could do this, I just had to get a good prize in one sweep, a second attempt would be tricky if the first failed.
I walked along as if I belong there. I had become quite good at that image. A puppy store was cleaning out their kennels, creating a big diversion if I wanted to grab something and duck by this place. The employees were banging out the metal crates and bowls, struggling to keep dogs on leashes as they cycled dogs out while their cages were cleaned. A fluffy thing with blue eyes barked at the end of its chain, looking pitiful to me. I sidled up to the storefront and looked around for my target. Someone who looked like they could have something valuable, or maybe some needles and baggies of strange powder—Aha! I spied a couple walking on the opposite side of the road, each wore a thick watch. The watch looked like one of the models that could come off pretty easy if I just accidentally bumped into them like so and slipped the big clasp undone.
Shuffling along, I tried to get a better look at them to decide my approach precisely. At my new angle, I could see the man's face clearly; his features were fairly sharp and angular, he looked pretty darn handsome from the side but as I stood a ways in front of him, I saw that he had a low brow and small, green eyes with a permanent frown on his thin lips, he looked as if he were thinking about how bad his day had been so far—and it made him look real scary, paired with his short brown beard, and sturdy build. He had a black bandana around his neck, which I thought was funny, as I imagined him as a cowboy. His girlfriend or wife at his side held his hand and looked up at him with a smirk, though she was not much shorter than him, being a tall woman. She had bright blue eyes, full lips, and a slightly chubby body, but I guess it matched her prominent chin. The man wore an overcoat with large, deep pockets; normal sized for him, an irresistible abyss for me. I really, really wanted to get my hands in there and see what I might take. The heck with the watches—let me at that coat!
I had paused too long. The pair arrived at their destination, a coffee shop, and the man reached for the door. His lady stepped inside cheerfully, and the man entered last, not without glancing over his shoulder at the street. It was a smooth, surveying sweep that captured everything, and I knew he had seen me, though I was not standing out. I pouted in dismay as he turned around to follow the woman. A spark of hope lit inside me when I saw him take off his big coat and hang it by the slowly closing door. He stepped inside and disappeared. I would not miss this! I skipped up to the coffee shop a bit quicker than I should have, and laid my hand on the door. I could barely contain myself. I eagerly opened the door and poked my head in. The room was lit, stinging my eyes a bit, but sure enough there hung the coat only a few feet from my grasp. I looked around for the man curiously. The coat hung on the wall to my left, and covered tables lay beyond. The woman had already sat down at a round table in the middle of the room, crossing her legs adamantly as she said, "Well, bring it over here, John, I'm not sitting so close to the door."
Containing a sigh, John began to turn toward me and his coat. I stifled a yelp and ducked under the nearest table, praying no one had seen me. Large boots stepped past me; John had a measured gait, with restrained irritation in each step. He was what I thought an elephant husband would be like, or maybe a rhinoceros; big and powerful, but somehow keeping himself from raging when his loved one disagreed. I should give him some respect, that woman does have an annoying haughtiness in her voice. She wears the pants in this relationship, he wears the coat. I listened as he took said precious coat and strode back to his woman. "I'll… go to the bathroom," he said in the low, slow voice of someone who had already thought out an entire argument in his head. Evidently he concluded the effort was futile.
John left to the back of the store, and I was stuck under a musty table smelling of old, old coffee beans and feet. I ignored the woman ordering her drink and snack, clutching my stomach as it threatened to growl again. Placing my face to the dirty floor, I peeked under the table cloth. John had just returned, and was taking his time approaching the table. I couldn't help it; my stomach let out a monstrous growl. Shuddering, I heard the woman ask, "Was that your stomach?"
"No," answered John.
"Eat some bread anyway."
"I'm alright, Jane."
I sighed into my hand in relief, and promptly began looking for an escape. The next table was not too far… if John and Jane kept talking, maybe I could scurry over to the next table, and get to the back of the store and get out through a window or door. Wait, John and Jane? Ha, I wonder if their last names are Doe. How strange. I shrugged and crawled to the edge of the tablecloth. Before I could dash to the next table, I heard barking and shouting from the street. One lady shrieked. John stopped talking and muttered, "What is going on out there?"
What is going on out there? I was curious, but not stupid; I took my chance and went for the next table. I made it in time to hear John stomp across the room to the door. He opened it and sounded as if to leave. Jane pushed out her chair and rushed to the door. I lifted the tablecloth up, preparing to bolt now that both of them were looking away. I made a run for it, straight for the back of the store. I didn't stop to look if Jane and John could see me, but I did stop when something else caught my eye: the coat. There it sat on the back of a chair, near Jane's cup of still-steaming cup of coffee. I darted over and shoved my hand in a pocket. Dimes, nickels, a cellphone; nothing was safe from my probing fingers. I scooped handfuls from each pocket into my satchel, casting a furtive glance at the front door. John was walking across the street, Jane waited by the door with her back to me. I turned to follow my original plan, to leave out of a possible window or door away from Jane and John. Before I could, I met the gaze of a server behind the counter; he was far away, but nonetheless, he saw the tense look on my face, and perhaps that I had stolen from John. I was starting to panic. I spun around, bumping the table, and looked back to Jane. She hadn't seen, she would not suspect me…
So I boldly, politely, pushed past Jane with a brief, "Excuse me," and, giddy with victory, retreated. I did it! This had to be one of my best works yet. I turned from the coffee shop and looked at the scene unfolding on the street: a huge pale dog was being held by the scruff by the same man I had seen earlier on the other end of the road. Uniformed employees of the puppy store held a squealing blue-eyed dog. Some marks of red stained the light colored fur of the pet shop dog, its tail was tucked so far, it curled around its leg. I pitied the fluffy dog, thinking it had gotten into a dog fight with the mastiff. The mastiff leaned against its own collar, barking at the smaller dog as if it were a rat. In comparison to the mastiff's size, it might as well be.
Once I was back in the alley, I happily opened my satchel and assessed my trove. The best item I had gotten, besides the cellphone, was a plastic case. I opened it, smiling, to find an array of little needles and syringes wrapped cleanly in plastic, and secured in the opposite side of the case were vials of a gold liquid. Ooh, gold… that is a mesmerizing golden color. I would definitely get a meal out of this—but I would keep one of those auburn vials for myself. Shutting the case, and stashing a vial in my bra, I went looking for Billy. Thunder rumbled again in the distance. Wind had begun to blow strongly; I had to tuck my hair behind my ears tightly to keep it out of my face. I began to worry I wouldn't find Billy, until I found him holed up under a fire escape. He was dozing off, drooling into his moldy beard. I laughed a bit, and knelt, patting his leg excitedly.
"Hermph-huh-what!" Billy jolted awake groggily. "Aw, girl, what'd you bring ol' Billy?"
Out of the satchel I brought the plastic case and opened it.
Billy sucked on his few teeth and counted the syringes. "Three needles and some funny yellow colored stuff? Well… Well," Billy scratched at the fleas in his beard. "Alright, Nicotine my dear, fair trade."
I exchanged the case and its contents, minus one vial I had stored, for a stale loaf of bread. I did not mind stale food, though, so I gleefully fled to my bedroom to eat my earned meal. Once in my room, out of a suspicious feeling, I went to my window and scanned the street. Billy was packing up now, as the thunder boomed louder. I rolled my eyes and sat down with my bread and satchel. I tore at the loaf with gusto, chewing and swallowing pieces whole. Within minutes I had managed to stuff the lot of it down my throat, and felt very thirsty. I could drink from the sink, I suppose, if I could get past the raw sewage smell and brackish taste. My breath crystallized in the cold air before me as I sighed. Taking another breath, I smelled something sweet. What was that? It was coming from the vial; I took it out of my shirt and sniffed it. Yes, it smelled… sort of like pollen. Being the inquisitive thing I am, I uncapped it and sniffed it directly. The scent was like honey. Maybe it was a thin kind of honey, but who would have vials of honey in a case with needles and syringes? Huh, it could be stored in there for convenience. Or perhaps injecting honey was a new thing. Anyway, it smelled delicious. Weird, but inviting; I had to just try one drop. One lick, or sip. I found myself downing the whole vial. The substance had not disappointed; it tasted as good as it smelled, albeit with some burning kind of feel to it. I had tasted liquor once, it was similar to that. Ugh, I had probably taken some sort of alcoholic treat. Slowly, the burning worsened, and I really could not get the fuzzy feeling off my tongue, no matter how many times I scraped it against my teeth.
Suddenly, a loud buzz startled me. Locating the strange sound, I reached into my satchel and pulled out the vibrating cellphone. The caller ID did not show at all, the screen appearing blank under the words "Call from…"
I thought about it. Maybe I should answer it, and leave the guy's phone somewhere for him? I usually do not take phones, but, in the heat of the moment…
"Hello?" I answered.
"Hi, this is the Red Cross poison control team, have you seen any honey-type substances being sold or handed out suspiciously?" said a friendly male voice.
"Oh, I, er, found this cellphone, I'm sorry… My name is Nicky," I mumbled.
Mild surprise shone in the speaker's voice. "That's alright, Nicky, we're only concerned with the illegal substance making its way into the common public. So, Nicky, you have not seen or heard anything about it?"
"Um…" the empty vial still rested in my hand. "No."
"Okay," the speaker paused for a breath, continuing with seriousness, "Anyone who uses that substance will die within hours of taking it, are you sure you haven't handled anything like it?"
Holy crap! "Well, I-I kind of, I mean—I think I ate some honey today, yes, and, yes, it was from someone I didn't know. My throat is really starting to hurt."
"Mmhmm," the voice hummed solemnly, as if he knew everything I had done. "You sound a little raspy, Nicky, calm down… careful not to circulate the poison. Please tell me your location, I can send someone over to check on you in case you have come in contact with the toxin."
I rattled off my address, anxiety steadily rising. What have I done, what have I done… Oh, I am never, never stealing anything ever again or drinking weird stuff in my entire life! I swear on what remains of my life right here and now!
"Thank you, how about you stay on the phone with me while we come find you?"
"Oh, um, thank you too…" I trembled and sweated, from the poison or the stress of the situation, I did not know. "Do you…" swallowing, I tried again, "Do you have to tell my parents?"
"… No, Nicky. Say, do you have a dog, or is your family home?"
Even though he could not see, I shook my head. "I don't have any dogs, and my parents won't be back until tonight at least… maybe later."
"I see. Everything will be fine, Nicky. No one has to know about this."
"Great," I said weakly, silently berating myself.
Seconds ticked by like minutes. I felt numb in my hands and feet. A flash of lightning lit up my room, showing my wall decorations in sharp contrast. My parents had not seen my collection. No one must know, all I want is to put this behind me now. I would even go to school and deal with the cruel teachers and angry kids instead of steal now, I swear. Slowly, the adrenalin was ebbing from my body, letting my blood pressure deflate. I decided to breathe fresh, gelid air from my window; I stood up and opened the frail frame again. Billy was still in the alley. Why? Is he so old he packs so slow now? I snorted. Suddenly, I saw into the dark alley clearer; Billy was gesturing frantically. Another figure in the alley was holding something out to him. I realized a second later, the other figure was not offering something, but pointing a knife. The weapon glinted in the light as the figure stepped forward and stabbed into Billy's neck. I covered my mouth with a free hand and choked a half-hearted scream.
I gripped the windowsill as I watched Billy topple over, clawing at his throat. Whether it was the shock or the drug or the panic—I had become a bit less trusting of that smooth voice. "You aren't the Red Cross," I said miserably.
The figure walked out of the alley. It was Jane, her blue eyes practically glowing along with the blood on her knife. Following her came John. He held a hand to his ear, a cellphone in the hand. Looking up to my window, he spoke through the phone, "Stealing is a bad thing."
"You can have your stuff back but I won't let either of you—" I began fiercely.
His voice glided over mine. "Be quiet, sit back… We're coming for you, Nicky."