Updated: Jul 25, 2022
A New Recruit
Lilly groaned as the shade of the tarpaulin rooftop slowly retreated, and the sun’s warm rays passed over her eyes. Once again, it had been an uncomfortable night’s sleep, made worse by two drunken imbeciles screaming the national anthem across the streets of the city. From her rooftop sleeping area, she could hear everything – every stray dog’s bark, every bird’s song, every loudmouthed good-for-nothing tourist with pockets filled with cash that they wouldn’t fathom sparing for girls like her.
She slowly stretched and yawned, yanking off her filthy, hole-covered blanket as she did so, and walked to her rucksack. It held her second set of clothes that she’d been using for the last two weeks following a successful heist from the supermarket at the start of the month. Black had always been Lilly’s colour, so everything in the bag was too: underwear, t-shirt, a pair of tracksuit bottoms with white stripes down the side, and a thick woollen jumper. The only thing standing in contrast were her trainers, once white, now a faded grey-brown from months of running through the grime of Paris.
Lilly didn’t have much else, other than a half empty cannister of deodorant, a half empty bag of unused tissues and tampons, a toothbrush with bristles so mangled and bent they looked as if they belonged to a rat, an almost flat tube of toothpaste and a reserve of mostly stale biscuits for a bad day. There was also her blanket of course, the only thing she still had from the days with her parents.
When she’d finished getting ready, she left her shelter and ran across the supermarket rooftop on which it was situated. With the edge in sight, she leapt through the air. As gravity tugged her down to the building a few metres below, she arched her body and set her hands out into a triangle, allowing her to transfer the weight of her landing into a safe forward roll. She dusted off her hands and looked back with amusement. The wall was high - far higher than what most free runners would dare jump off, and far too tall and steep for any to climb back up again. But Lilly wasn’t like the others. For whatever reason, she could jump higher and hold her weight better than any other criminal in Paris.
She peered over the edge of the brewery she now stood on and saw the familiar red canopy below. The streets were reasonably crowded, but oddly enough people didn’t care much about the girl climbing down from a rooftop on busy days like this – not when their lives were thousands of times more important. She hooked her body over the parapet and dropped slightly, her hands holding the edge while her feet planted onto the ledge of a window. She then slowly lowered each hand, pushing them against either side of the window frame for full balance, before lowering her legs again. She repeated this one more time, until she’d descended enough to fall directly on the canopy. When she hit this, she gracefully rolled off and fell to the pavement with a controlled landing on all fours.
She glanced up to see a small crowd of people standing around her, briefly bemused at the feat she had just pulled off. She dusted herself down and continued to la Place d’Aligre, a bustling marketplace full of joyous rich-folk and screaming produce sellers. She despised the place most of the time, but right now she needed breakfast.
It was a particularly busy day, people swarming around the various coloured stalls like ants at a picnic. Lilly rushed into the busy crowd, bracing through the shoving around her, and approached a fruit stand, filled with “fresh produce from France’s finest farms.” She spotted an opportunity. A local Parisian (she could from the accent) was stood at the stall, arguing that he’d been overcharged for the apple. Lilly approached him, observing the bulge in his back pocket and without taking her eyes off it she purposefully ran into a woman passing by. With her best acting face, she stood back, shocked and apologetic, and bumped into the arguing man behind her, her hand quickly reaching into his pocket. The man turned with a fierce expression, enraged that he had been knocked into. Lilly apologised and walked away, subtly placing his wallet into her own zipped pocket, fumbling inside it for cash.
Finally, she found a ten euro note and walked back up to the stand, where the Parisian had returned to arguing with the fruit vendor. ‘Excuse moi,’ she said in her best French. ‘Je crois vous avez fait tombée ton portefeuille!’ Telling somebody they’d dropped their wallet was one of her most frequently used French phrases, along with ‘Je n’ai volé pas ça!’ and ‘Va te faire foutre!’
The man put his rage on pause and snatched the wallet back without a word of thanks. She then handed the money to the shopkeeper, who took it in relief as she took an apple and a banana from the front. The Parisian man started shouting again about how he’d forgotten to bring his money, how his damned wife had probably stolen it, and how he’d be furious at her tonight. Lilly seized the opportunity and pocketed another apple before vanishing into the crowd.
When she emerged from the marketplace she bit into her breakfast, juice trickling down her chin, satisfied to have taken the better of miserable people once again, and continued her walk to the river.
Halfway along her journey she froze, , when she saw a middle-aged woman sleeping on a cardboard box on the side of the road, a single blanket and no tarpaulin shelter to keep her covered. Lilly hesitated, looking down greedily at the second apple in her pocket, before approaching the woman. She took out the uneaten apple, hesitating once again when she saw her reflection in its shining red surface, and dropped it in the woman’s lap. She knew what it was like to be hungry. She’d known it all too well for two years.
The journey that followed took a quarter of an hour, but Lilly finally reached the edge of the river Seine, where she found the crew waiting for her. They were peering gloomily over the rail, frowns on their faces, not a word passing between them. Furthest at the back was Marie, tall and menacing –a cigarette in her hand, and a black, badge covered jacket on her shoulders. Beside her was Denise, large with green streaked hair, a (presumably stolen) banana in her right hand, also smoking with her left. Lucy stood on the left, blowing bubble gum, her face constantly twitching under her left eye. Finally, there was a new girl, one Lilly hadn’t seen before – short in stature, with nutmeg, wavy hair, skin a light coffee colour and irises like ice.
‘Salut, Lilly,’ Marie turned and said condescendingly. The next phrase was delivered with sting, and Lilly translated it to something along the lines of: ‘You’re late.’
Lilly nodded slowly and shrugged. ‘Needed some food first,’ she translated into her best French. Two years in Paris had helped her vocabulary, but she’d spent most of that time alone, and still found it easier to speak in English. ‘Who’s the new girl? Jane’s replacement?’
‘This is Sarah,’ said Denise. ‘She’s a Brit, like you, and somehow knows even less French than you do! Looks like you’re not the rookie anymore, Scar-throat!’
The girls laughed. Sarah looked down and blushed without saying a word.
‘So,’ Lilly said, breaking them off. ‘What’s the job?’
Marie strolled forwards and pointed over Lilly’s shoulder. ‘That’s the job.’
Lilly turned and found herself facing a fine-looking jewellery shop named “Élégance,” filled with an assortment of earrings, watches and necklaces. Even from a distance she could see the security cameras, the alarm system, the locks on the doors. She looked up to the roof and spotted a single vent for air on the side of a large metal funnel. ‘So, we’re going through the air-duct?’ she asked them in their language.
Lucy snorted. ‘You’re on it for once. There’s a building a few blocks away with a ladder to the roof. We climb up the ladder, run across the rooftops to the jewellery store and unscrew the vents. We put on our masks, crawl down the vents into the backroom, starting with New-Girl over here, and silently crawl to the front of the shop. We spray the camera, sneak to the display case we need, and take their most prized possession.’
‘Which is?’ Lilly asked.
‘The Beaumont Necklace, worth tens of thousands of euros. We take it, smash the windows as the alarms start to go off, and make a run for it.’
‘And we won’t get caught?’ Lilly exclaimed, bemused. ‘We’ve never let an alarm go off before. How are you planning to escape the police?’
They all glanced at Sarah. ‘If we don’t make it out in time,’ Marie said, ‘we have a plan.’
Lilly shook her head, bemused. ‘I’m not so sure about this…’
‘Then don’t come.’ Rosie said casually. ‘It’s not like we can’t do this without you.’
Lilly eyed her with irritation and exhaled. ‘All right. Whatever.’
Marie threw her cigarette in the water and strolled forward. ‘Meet us tomorrow night at six thirty with your mask and your gloves. Don’t you dare be late like last time.’
‘The frog mask?’ Lilly asked with annoyance. It was a dumb joke but quite the annoying one.
‘Obviously. I’ll see you tomorrow then, Scar-throat.’
‘See ya, skinny,’ Denise said with a smirk.
Lucy didn’t say a word. All three of them walked off, Denise dropping her banana peel on the floor as she did so. Lilly sighed and strolled to pick it up, throwing it in the nearest bin. She turned to see that the new girl was still there.
‘What do you want?’ she asked in English.
Sarah blushed and looked to her feet. ‘I just… I’m nervous about tonight.’
Lilly shrugged and approached the rail, looking out to the Seine and the towering buildings like Demarson Pharmaceuticals on its other side. There was something comforting about the sight of rushing water to Lilly, something that made her feel at home as if she belonged in the depths of that river. So long as she wasn’t swimming in the water, that was. ‘Well… nerves are good. Nerves keep you sharp. Don’t worry, those bitches have done plenty of jobs before, and this’ll be my thirteenth. It won’t go wrong.’
Sarah nodded and looked out to the river too. ‘You’re English, right?’
‘So why are you out here in Paris?’
Lilly snapped her head round and scowled. ‘Why the hell would I tell you that?’
Sarah looked hurt and confused. ‘I’m sorry… I was just-’
‘Making conversation? Look, I’m not your friend. Small-talk and sweetness aren’t going to get you far in a world where people stab you in the back to ensure their own survival.’
Sarah frowned and looked out to the river. ‘Oh… I see. I just thought it’d help if we got to know each other a little.’
‘It won’t,’ Lilly snapped. ‘Don’t believe me? Ask the girl you replaced. Jane was kind, sympathetic, but she tried to escape an armed police officer and got shot.’ She sighed. ‘If you want to work with us, you’ve got to cut that personal shit out and focus on the job, okay? We just rob places together, that’s it.’
Sarah frowned. ‘I… I guess I thought you weren’t like the other three.’ She slowly turned and walked away. Lilly raised an eyebrow as she noticed the unusual design of the girl’s shirt. Running down lengthways from her shoulders to her waste were what appeared to be two long slits in the fabric, stuck together by straps. The back appeared slightly hunched too, or at least her shirt bulged out the back a lot for someone so skinny.
Her stomach sank with guilt, and she looked back to the river. The current beckoned to her again, coaxing her to jump in, while her panicked brain said to run away as fast as possible. Whenever she felt the cool rush of water against her skin, she would feel her entire body relax, especially the lines of scars on either side of her throat. But when she swam, it was a different matter. When she swam, she remembered what had brought her to Paris. What she’d been able to do in the water: what had happened to her.
And old, frightful memory resurfaced, but Lilly immediately shut it away. She had enough on her mind with this upcoming burglary; she didn’t need thoughts of how she got here distracting her.
She calmly turned and walked back up the road from which she’d came, finding comfort in the knowledge that she was alone once more, with nobody around to bother her.
She was also ignorant to the girl her age that now followed her, a radio communicator in her hand - telling her bosses that yes, this was the right place, and yes, they would need to contact the local authorities immediately.
Image by Dan Novac
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