Warnings: Stealing, Prostitution, Illegal fighting, Drugs, Swearing, Child abuse, Kidnapping, Mentions of rape, Mentions of murder

Chapter One: Criminal

I see you chose to read on. Alright then. It's your funeral.

My hand slipped into the man's pocket and grabbed his wallet with ease. Too busy on his cell phone and used to the New York crowds, the slight pressure went unnoticed. I dropped it in my own bag strapped across my chest, and moved on to the woman a few feet in front of me. The sharp scissors I always carried cut the thin straps of her purse easily, while I hid my hand with a newspaper. In the bustling crowd of people on the sidewalk, no one noticed my actions.

I loved New York.

I slowed and let the marks walk ahead; completely unaware of what had just happened. I would move on somewhere else before going after another. Less chances of getting caught.

I stuffed the woman's purse in my bag, and strode across the busy street, ignoring the agitated honking of a cab. My gaze was kept on my ratty, knock-off converse; just another impatient kid trying to get somewhere unimportant. Probably looked like a college student hurrying to class.

I stumbled into a man carrying a briefcase and immediately apologized. While he glared at me from his left, I plucked his wallet from his right pocket. Really, people were such idiots. They paid attention to all the wrong things.

The man sped up, unknowingly leaving me with all his cash and letting me get away. As I placed the wallet in my bag with the others, I couldn't help but smirk at the easy money I'd just earned in fifteen minutes tops. Credits cards could be tracked, but there had to be at least a few hundred total in cash. Rags might even be able to get a new coat. He was gonna need it soon enough - winter was coming.

As if to reinforce the thought, a bitter gust of wind whipped at my hair and clothes. I hunched my shoulders and tugged my black hoodie closer in a futile attempt to keep warm.

I wanted to get out of the cold, but knew I should get food before heading back home. Our place was almost empty of it, and Rags could probably use some more medicine. Not to mention, the wallets and purse was burning a hole in my side. Getting rid of evidence from any crime as soon as possible was one of the first things I'd learned.

I flipped my hood over my matted brown hair, making a mental note to wash it later. The last thing I needed was lice on top of everything else. The shampoo that would be needed was fucking expensive, and Rags had enough problems.

I ducked into a dinky Dollar General, relishing the heat that greeted me. A pimply teenage guy nodded at me in a revised "Welcome to Dollar General, the place filled with junk food and mismatched shit that you don't need but still want."

Out of reflex, I avoided looking at the cameras, even though I knew they weren't being watched and most likely never would. My hood covered most of my face and my footsteps were light and purposeful; instinctive reactions I'd gained over the years and still couldn't turn off without effort.

I grabbed a cart and began pushing it down an aisle filled with nothing but off-brand cookies, chips, candy, and soda. I took a bit of everything (as you can see, I liked to keep a balanced diet) and made my way over to the 'feminine products' aisle, where for some reason the workers paired it with antibiotics. Tylenol was the first thing, though I had to decide between children's or adult's. Adult's was cheaper, but Rags would hate the flavor. He refused to take any kind of medicine unless it tasted like Cherries and was in liquid form.

Children's it was.

I sighed as I tossed it in the cart, along with kid's Ibuprofen to lower his fever. And to bribe him to actually take it, a Butterfinger chocolate bar, which I knew was his favorite.

Unable to carry too much, I headed to the line to check out. It was only when I was pulling out one of the men's wallets to pay when she first approached me.

"Lot of money for a kid like you to be carrying around."

I forced myself to remain unaffected as I took out three twenties and turned to face the woman. She smiled at me politely with straight, white teeth. I returned it and tucked the wallet back into my messenger bag. "Yes, well, I have a lot from tutoring others. They pay me in cash." Now mind your business, bitch.

She brushed a strand of blonde hair behind her ear, and I caught a flash of a diamond earring. I tried not to stare at it; that thing would feed Rags and me for a month. "It cost three thousand for the set."

"Hm?" I blinked and focused on her again. Her head tilted to the side, a knowing look in her blue eyes. I shifted under her stare, not liking the attention.

"I said it cost three thousand for the set. You were looking at my earrings, correct?"

"Oh." I coughed and glanced at the line in front of me to avoid her gaze. Still three people ahead of me. Damn it, Pimpled Teenage Cashier. Can you not speed this up?

"You know, there is a way you can earn a lot more than just by stealing my earrings."

I didn't look at her. "I'm sorry, ma'am, but I don't steal."

She laughed lowly, and I felt her hand graze over the top of my bag. "That's funny, because I'm positive I just saw you pickpocket three people. Care to open this bag of yours and prove me wrong?"

I gripped the strap across my body tightly, but still didn't look at her. "Who are you? A cop?" It didn't really matter. If things escalated I was gonna take off running, food be damned.

She chuckled and moved her hand away. "No, of course not. I'm an employer, if you so choose."

Against my will, I turned to glance at her in the corner of my eye. "An employer?" I'd never had a real job or full-blown heist, thinking it was safer to just stick with pickpocketing. Most of the time, people don't even realize they'd been robbed until I'm long gone.

"An employer," She confirmed. "You see, I watched you lift from those people and I have to admit you're good. There is something I want, but am unfortunately unable to retrieve it myself. Perhaps you would for the right price?" There was something professional about the way she spoke, like all this really was just a job. I wasn't sure if I trusted that or not.

"And if I chose to accept this…job?" I made sure to keep my voice even, but I couldn't stop my nervously twitching fingers. She must've noticed because she slid her hand into mine and pressed something into my palm.

"If you do," She leaned toward my ear, "All I need is a flash drive from the office. Once you have it, meet me here on Wednesday. That gives you two whole days. Don't disappoint me." She pulled away, and without another word, left the store. I stared after her; whatever she had given me still in my hand.

"Yo, dude!"

I jumped at the call, and realized I was the only one still standing in line. Pimpled Teenage Cashier was waiting with narrowed eyes for me to unload my cart. I did so in a daze, wondering what the fuck had just happened. I came here to buy food, not get offered a heist for a mysterious flash drive by a mysterious woman.

Once Pimpled Teenage Cashier started bagging my things, I unfurled my fingers around the item the woman gave to me. It was a business card for Amazing Getaways, but it was the writing on the back that got my attention.

15369 39th St. New York, NY.

It was written in blue ink and was cursive. Completely unremarkable.

"$46.82," Pimpled Teenage Cashier droned, hand out stretched for the money. I gave him the three twenties I'd taken out earlier and stuffed the change into my messenger bag without counting to see if the amount was right. Hands unusually clumsy, I grabbed the four plastic bags and used my shoulder to push the door open. Immediately, the late fall wind tore through my ratty clothes. I bit my lip against the onslaught, and kept going.

I opened the white-painted door of the townhouse to the usual sight of teenagery: deafening music, messiness, and a couple making out on the couch. I rolled my eyes and stepped inside, closing the door with my foot afterwards. Derek broke the kiss between him and Hot Chick of the Week to look up at me hopefully from the couch. "Food?"

I walked past him and headed up the stairs to where Rags was. "Not any for you." I heard him groan, only for the sound to be replaced with obnoxious kissing noises again over the music. Still, I tried to ignore it, unwilling to get into the same fight about the same thing.

Thankfully, when I reached the second floor hallway, the music wasn't as loud. I opened our bedroom door as quietly as I could, unsure whether Rags was asleep or not. I hoped he was; rest was what he needed most.

Our bedroom was dark except for the nightlight on the far wall. A small, sleeping figure could be seen underneath a comforter on a bare mattress. I breathed a small sigh of relief before shuffling forward, bags in hand, to put the food away in our plastic tubs. For this reason, all the food I'd bought didn't need to be refrigerated. If I put it downstairs in the kitchen it'd be gone within hours.

I placed the food in the containers, trying to keep the rustling of the bags to a minimum, and put the medicine aside. I'd have Rags take them later.


I winced when the door slammed, the house actually shaking from the force. Seemed like Hot Chick of the Week had enough of Derek. Almost afraid to look, I glanced over my shoulder to where Rags was supposed to be sleeping. Brown, sleepy eyes stared back at me from underneath the covers. Damn you, Derek. It was gonna be hell to get him back to sleep.

"Hey, buddy." I kept my voice soft. Rags was terrified of loud noises and being sick increased his discomfort even more so. I held up the box of Tylenol. "Want to take it now? It should help."

Rag's brown eyes narrowed at the medicine before burrowing back into the blanket. I resisted the urge to groan at his wordless refusal. The battle wasn't over yet. I grabbed the Butterfinger I'd bought and scooted to where Rags was lying, the chocolate held gently in my hands like a priceless offering. "If you take it now I'll give you this." Ever so slowly, Rags poked his head out, expression wary. I shook the liquid Tylenol and candy in both hands. "One dose of this cherry stuff and you get a whole chocolate bar. C'mon, how can you say no to that?"

Judging by Rags' defeated sigh, he couldn't. He sat up and held out a shaky hand for the medicine cup, looking everywhere but me. I bit my lip to keep from smiling, and poured the right amount for Rags' meager size of around ninety pounds. He swung it down like a shot glass, grimacing at the flavor, and then yanked the promised Butterfinger from my grasp. I let him, and stood up to put the medicine away under my bed where it wouldn't be noticed. "You hungry?"

Yawning, Rags shook his head and curled into a ball, back against the wall. He tore the Butterfinger open, despite his claims of not being hungry, and shoved most of it into his mouth. There was a time when I would've scolded him for it.

That was a long time ago.

Now, I just shook my head and grabbed a baby wipe from under the bed to wipe his face whenever he was finished, which was only a bite later. I kneeled next to him and swiped it over his sticky skin, ignoring his struggles to get away.

"All clean. Try to get some more sleep, okay?" I tossed the dirty cloth in the trash can near the bed (for nausea purposes) and pushed him gently back onto the bed. He stared up at me with tired, distressed eyes and my chest ached.

Sighing, I pushed his hair away from his sweaty face. "I'll be right back. Cold water should help with your fever." I stood, walked out of our bedroom, and shut the door behind me quietly. I noticed immediately that the music was gone. That must mean-

"Back are you?"

I nearly groaned when I heard Marsha's raspy voice, but somehow managed to stop myself. If she was home early then she must've been in a terrible mood. I turned to face her. "Yeah. Work was slow."

Marsha did that weird noise between a snort and a sigh that I think was caused by smoking and a bad attitude. Her brown hair was a mess of frizzy curls, her lips were stained red with drugstore lipstick, and she wore her usual short dress with heels. Date night.

For the fifth time this week.

"You should get another job." Marsha took out a pack of cigarettes and lit one of the them. I tried not to look disgusted when the smell of smoke worsened.

"Maybe." That was all I ever said. I simply wanted her to get off my back, and if that meant agreeing with her for now, then fine. I'd tell her I'd join the circus if that meant she'd leave early.

She blew smoke out of pursed lips. "Good, kid. Anyway, I'm off." She passed me, her heels clicking annoyingly on the hardwood floor as she headed downstairs. I wasted no more time standing there and went to get a cold washcloth from the bathroom.

Marsha was our foster parent. She only took in older kids (Rags was the youngest) so she could leave us on our own while she got money for us being there. Sure, she could be charged with neglect, but all of us had been in worse places than Marsha's. At least here we had a roof.

I walked back to our bedroom once I wet the washcloth and shut the door behind me. Rags was still thankfully laying in bed where I left him and watching me with a blank expression. I kneeled next to him in my earlier position and draped the washcloth over his forehead, wincing at the heat that greeted me. He was getting worse.

Rags let out a miniscule sigh of relief and let his eyes close. I trailed my now cold hands over his face to try and help some more. "Sleep, buddy. You need it."

Rags nodded slightly, burying himself more into his pillow. I continued my efforts to lower his fever and soon I could feel his breath even. Only when I was sure he was asleep did I stand.

I had a choice to make. The card the woman gave me seemed to gain weight in my pocket. I could at least check it out, right? Do a little surveillance? See what exactly this woman wanted and from who. Rags would still be asleep for awhile…

I grabbed my messenger bag and left the room.

I didn't know if I believe in fate. I still don't. But what I do know is that there are choices in life you have to make, no matter how small or big. And those choices make you who you are, shape your belief, take you down a different path.

...Wow, dear reader. I am so sorry for that little bubble of corniness, but it had to be said.

I'll try to warn you next time.

AN: Thank you for reading! Review!