Thick as Thieves Page 2


“Got that?” demanded the older.

“Sure. I know what to do.” But even as he acknowledged his responsibility, he dried his palms by running them up and down his pants legs, a gesture that didn’t inspire confidence among the other three.

The older sighed, “Jesus.”

The nervous one was quick to reassure the other three. “Look, don’t worry about me. I’ve done my part, and I’ll continue to. I’m just jumpy, is all. Out here in the open like this.” He made a sweeping motion with his arm that encompassed the pasture and deserted stretch of country road. “Why’d we stop out here, anyway?”

“I thought we should come to an understanding,” the redhead said.

“And now we have.” The oldest one started up the embankment and gave the nervous one a warning glare. “You had better not screw this up.”

“I won’t. By Monday I’ll be okay.” He wet his lips and formed a shaky grin. “And six months from now, we’ll all be rolling in clover.”

As a group, they climbed out of the ditch, but the adjourning optimistic prediction didn’t pan out.

By morning, their plan had been shot to hell.

One of them was in the hospital.

One was in jail.

One was in the morgue.

And one had gotten away with the haul.

Chapter 1

Present day


Lord, Arden. I had counted on it being run-down, but…”

Lisa expressed her dismay with a shudder as she stepped through the back door into the kitchen and surveyed the conditions in which Arden had been living for the past five months.

Arden trailed her sister inside and pulled a chair from beneath the dining table. As she took her seat, she noticed that the tabletop had defied the recent polishing she’d given it. Before yesterday, she had fretted over those nicks and scratches. Today, she couldn’t see what possible difference they made.

Lisa was rattling on. Arden tuned back in. “Have you had that stove checked for a gas leak? It could be a safety hazard. Is there a functioning smoke or fire alarm?”

“They’re called Braxton Hicks. Think of them as practice contractions. But it’ll be a month or so before you start to experience them. And when you do, they’re no cause for alarm.”

That’s what the OB had told her on her last prenatal checkup.

But yesterday’s contractions weren’t Braxton Hicks. They’d turned out not to be a rehearsal, and they’d caused a great deal of alarm in the produce section of the supermarket.

She forced her thoughts away from that and back to Lisa, who stood in the center of the kitchen, elbows tucked into her sides as though afraid she might accidentally make contact with a contaminated surface.

“You told me you were occupying only a few of the downstairs rooms. What about in here?”

Lisa went over to the open doorway and looked in at the formal dining room and, beyond it, the living room. Two decades ago, they’d been emptied of all furnishings except for the upright piano that stood where it always had. Arden had been surprised to find it still here, but she supposed that it had remained for the same reason Lisa hadn’t taken it with them when they vacated. How does one cart off something that large?

“I suppose the rooms upstairs are as empty as these,” Lisa remarked. “Doesn’t appear as though you’ve been in here at all.” She gave the staircase a sweeping glance, then turned back into the kitchen. “Where are you sleeping?”

Arden nodded toward the room off the kitchen. Lisa gave the partially open door a push with the knuckle of her index finger.

It was a square and featureless space with a square and featureless window. Their mother, Marjorie, had used it as a catch-all to store Christmas decorations, castoff clothing bound for Goodwill, their dad’s rarely used golf clubs, a portable sewing machine, and such.

When Arden moved in, she’d decided to set up a temporary bedroom in here rather than use her old room upstairs, saving herself from having to go up and down the stairs as her pregnancy advanced and she grew more ungainly.

That was no longer an issue.

When the first pain gripped her, Arden dropped the apple she’d been testing and splayed her hands over her distended abdomen. Although the sharp and unexpected contraction robbed her of breath, she gave a cry of fright.

“What’s the matter, honey?”

She turned toward a voice filled with concern. She registered a pleasant face framed by gray hair, a blue-and-white-striped blouse, and kindly eyes. Then another pain seized her, meaner than the one before. Her knees buckled.

“Oh, goodness. Your water broke. You’re going into labor.”

“No! I can’t be. It’s too early.”

“How far along are you?”

“It’s too early!” Her voice went shrill with panic. “Call 911. Please.”

Lisa was commenting on her drab, makeshift bedroom. “I simply don’t understand why you chose to come back here and live like this.”

Arden had furnished the room with a twin bed, a nightstand and lamp, and a chest of drawers that she had assembled herself over the course of two days. She remembered feeling a great sense of accomplishment and had imagined herself assembling a crib soon.

The mirror that Arden had mounted on the wall above the chest reflected Lisa’s dismay as she came back around, shaking her head slowly and regarding Arden as she would an indecipherable ancient transcript.

“Is there anything to drink?”

Without waiting for an answer, Lisa returned to the kitchen and checked inside the refrigerator. “Good. Diet Coke. Or would you rather have something else? Does the ice maker work?”

Arden tried to keep up with Lisa’s brisk thought processes, but her mind was fettered by vivid recollections.

“You’ll be all right. Lie back. Take deep breaths.”

A young woman in yoga attire had responded to the older lady’s shout for help. She eased Arden down until she was reclining in the supporting arms of another stranger who’d taken up position behind her. Kneeling at her side, the young woman continued to speak to her in a calm and soothing manner. But nothing she’d said helped, not with the pain that assailed her, not with the despair that was equally intense.

Desperate, she shoved her hands between her thighs in an effort to hold inside the life that her body was prematurely trying to expel.

Prev page Next page