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Quiz time! Would Ma and Daddy be more pissed off that I’m in a hotel room alone with two boys or that we’re here doing something “mildly illegal”?
Fifteen-and-a-half year old Ariadne Evans looked between the two guys who had officially named her a member of the family.
Mattie Crowe, otherwise known as the “village idiot,” sat on one of the two tiny beds in their bed and breakfast near Buckingham Palace, staring at the ceiling because their room forgot to provide them with a TV. All in all, despite him being two years older combined with him inviting her to share the twin bed with him, he was harmless.
But, Logan Crowe, Mattie’s older brother by ten years, was another story. Even in their down time, he wore his signature frown, papers surrounding his spot on the other bed. She had only been traveling with the Crowe brothers for three days, but she already knew quiet Logan was not a guy to mess with.
Plus, when it came to Logan Crowe, he was almost better to be kept at a staring distance. Ariadne had known some good looking guys back in her public Birmingham, Alabama high school, but not even models on the covers of tabloids could compare to Logan Crowe. There wasn’t even a specific feature that really made him good looking—there was just some combination of all the right model features and the mystery he gave off that made him a lust object. Her lust would’ve been shameful back home, and it almost made her want to give him more attention.
Ariadne nearly startled herself off of her uncomfortable desk chair as Mattie had somehow moved from the bed to directly behind her.
“Jeez Mattie, don’t do that!” Ariadne replied, hoping her blush wasn’t showing.
Logan threw his papers down. “Could you guys keep the zoo volume to a minimum?”
Mattie leaned into Ariadne. “Someone’s on his man period.”
He looked back to his brother with a childish smile on his face. “What?”
Mattie moved back to his bed. “Fine. Wake me up when your brain starts producing some serotonin.”
Logan glanced at Ariadne. “Do you want me to take you on recon to get a feel for it?”
Ariadne shook her head. “Let the thief do what he does best.”
Logan looked back down.
Over the past few days, Ariadne had realized that the contrast between the Crowe brothers went far beyond the fact that Logan’s brown hair was way darker than Mattie’s and that Mattie grew it out past Logan’s ear length. They were both drop dead gorgeous, but there was something about Mattie that radiated excitement and friendliness over Logan’s enigma. Both of them could smile their similar half-smile and one be welcoming while the other was sly. Or, well, judging by the one time she saw Logan really smile, that was what she perceived.
“I’ll be right in a few, then,” Logan said as he got to his feet.
“Pick up some fish n chips, bugger,” Mattie said in an awful English accent.
Logan and Ariadne exchanged a glance.
“Yeah, uh, work on your jokes, little bro.”
With that, Logan was gone, off doing something “mildly illegal.”
Ariadne moved onto Logan’s spot on the bed, half because of the uncomfortable chair and half for the fantasy.
“Why’s Logan so serious all the time?” Ariadne asked Mattie.
Mattie picked a bouncy ball he’d bought in some arcade back in Alabama and threw it at the ceiling. “It’s part of his character. He’s my foil. He makes me look more attractive.”
Mattie grinned, and Ariadne followed suit. “I doubt it’s that simple.”
Mattie threw the ball up again. “Maybe not. Hey uh, you’re doing okay, right? I mean, most people get colds in London the first time they come, and since you’re from Alabama and all—”
“You’re from the middle of the Central Valley, California. You’re in the same hot boat as me.”
He tossed the ball again. “Point taken. But uh, with the thieving thing. You’re cool?”
Ariadne thought back to every mass she’d attended and lecture her parents had ever given her. No matter how much she wanted to forget her father who worked for his family but never saw them and the mother she’d spend every hour fighting with, they just wouldn’t leave her. Wouldn’t forgive her for running away with the Crowes. Stealing is a sin.
“Yeah, I’m fine.”
“Cause we’re not petty criminals. Jack Gray, the guy we’re targeting with this London job…he’s a bad man. A really bad man. Whatever we give him he deserves.”
Ariadne searched for Mattie’s eyes as he spoke, and he was welcoming the eye contact. “Why?”
Mattie frowned, and for the first time, looked worried. “Jack Gray was a member of a criminal group called the Erudires.”
“Yeah. But uh, back when I was a baby, they came to our house and murdered my parents.” Ariadne’s stomach dropped. She knew they were going to play “a more badass and politically balanced” version of Robin Hood, but she had no idea they were dealing with murderers. “And Logan…He remembers that night. There’s something he saw that night, and I think—no, I know, he wants something more than justice.”
Ariadne swallowed. “Like vengeance?”
Mattie thought about it. “God Ari, I really shouldn’t say. Logan’s such a levelheaded guy that it’s awful of me to guess. We really ought to just focus on the job.”
Logan Crowe just had to keep his head screwed on straight. Rob Gray. No more. No distractions. Just rob Gray. But, as he headed to Jack Gray’s office perched above his “pharmacy,” there was no logic in his motivation. Decades old fear and anger had attached themselves to the back of his mind and weren’t easy to pull off.
The door to the second floor of Gray’s office was locked, but Logan was prepared with a bump key. The stairs up creaked as he walked, and the automatic lights that clicked on as he entered the stairwell eliminated all chances of being able to hide if Gray decided to return to his office any time soon. To push his thoughts away from the emotions, he mentally reviewed all he knew about Gray.
The Erudites primarily worked with black market items, their two biggest products being a certain type of performance enhancing drug and lacing basic items in stolen gold melted down from priceless artifacts. Gray worked with the gold, lacing the items in his turf while another Erudite stole the gold Gray used. So, getting at Gray would involve knowing where his stash was kept and how heavily guarded that stash was. Logan had been stealing since his humble days in foster care, but this would be the first big test. Could he go from being a minor thief with potential to carving himself a name in the criminal world?
Gray’s actual office door was unlocked. Logan accented his black leather gloves with a black bandana over his nose and mouth. DNA testing was still an emerging tool in forensics, but Logan knew that 1994 was only a matter of time before the method was used in convicting big criminals. Using some high end Polaroid that Logan highly doubted was worth its price tag, he began snapping shots of the office.
But, even when all the necessary photos were taken, Logan felt an urge to loiter in the room. Why are you staying here, professional? You’re done. Go back to the kids.
He shut his eyes for a moment, willing the emotional side to stay out of the real life-or-death work that needed to be done. He couldn’t afford a confrontation with Gray before the heist. He needed to stay focused.
But, the moment he turned toward the office door, he heard footsteps thudding up the stairs. His heart sped up, but he kept himself calm, surveying his options. And, as much fun as keeping himself on the ceiling, the window seemed like the best option.
He threw it open and climbed out, his hands resting on the bottom of the windowsill. Digging his fingertips into the ridge on the pane, he shut the window, but left himself in the London winter hanging off a rather high second story. He looked to his right, relief flushing through.
He removed his right hand from the window and began pumping with his legs. Once he’d caught enough air, he flung himself toward a sewer pipe attached to the side of the building. Careful to keep some of his weight off the delicate instrument, he slid down several feet on the pipe and dropped to the ground floor. He had landed in an alley, so he brushed the dirt off his clothing, removed the bandana, and headed toward the street.
There, he started his slow walk back to the hotel room, hoping and praying to the God he didn’t believe in that Ariadne could help him.
Sometime along the way, he found a familiar face.
But, even the familiar face couldn’t account for how knocked off his feet he felt every time he saw her. She was just as gorgeous as ever that whipping winter evening, her striped scarf only able to cover the cupid’s bow lips she usually lathered in gloss and kept in a straight line. Beyond that, he could see her blue eyes, long, dark hair, and Italian skin even the English winter couldn’t completely kill. She wasn’t wearing anything special, but Logan could make out those curves he’d crave every time their paths diverged.
He smiled at her as she passed.
“Evening, Inspector Moretti,” he muttered only loud enough for himself to hear.
To his utter pleasure, her cheeks reddened as she reacted. Knowing he had to give himself in doses with the Inspector, he winked and kept on watching.
He could only imagine her anger as she realized what had just happened.
“I love cops,” Logan said as he returned to the hotel several hours after his recon job started.
Ariadne noted that Logan didn’t look particularly beat up, so it must’ve gone well. No, worse, he was smiling like a normal person. She knew it was a joke, but she was honestly unnerved to see Logan Crowe smiling.
“Like the TV show?” Ariadne asked.
“No, like the real thing.”
It was like the Crowe brothers were dumping tar into the pool as she tried to trudge water. “What?”
Mattie gave a dismissive wave. “It’s just one cop. Keep your panties on.”
Ariadne glared at him, causing him to put his hands palms out in front of him. “Whoa there, slick. I was talking about Logan.”
Logan seemed to be so out of it that he ignored the comment. “Inspector Bianca Moretti, Interpol agent sent on my case for several months now. For the man who could get any woman he wanted, she’s the only one I want.”
Mattie looked to Ariadne. “She’s Italian.”
“Italian-American,” Logan corrected.
“How would you know that? It’s not like you’ve talked to her.”
“I have, and she’s more American.”
Mattie picked at his eyebrow. “Congratulations. When’s the wedding? Oh wait, that’s right! She’s a cop and you’re a criminal! Your professional differences are that she wants to goddamn arrest you!”
Logan smirked. “Well, I want her. We’ll see whose will is stronger.”
“Yeah, or Captain Serious can snap out of it and focus on the job!”
And the entire Crowe brother dynamic had changed thanks to one woman. Ariadne wondered what this Inspector Moretti was like. Clearly, if someone like Logan Crowe was willing to put aside professional differences, she must’ve been extremely hot and at least somewhat intelligent. And she must love her job. She cringed thinking of someone who was more serious about her job than Logan.
Logan shrugged. “We need her, Matt. She’s going to arrest Gray when we ransack his place.”
Mattie crossed his arms. “Well, until then, keep your eyes on the prize, and I don’t mean the Italian Interpol agent.”
Logan leaned against the wall. “Ari, come here and see what we can come up with.”
Ariadne ignored Mattie’s continued attempts to talk some sense into his brother as she joined Logan on his bed while he spread out Polaroid photos and documents. Being so close to him sent her heart thudding, and she only hoped he couldn’t tell.
His pictures included a print out of a schedule, some names, and a teddy bear.
“What’s up with the teddy bear?” Ariadne asked.
Logan shrugged. “It seemed odd, so I figured it might have some information.”
“Anything for the guards?”
Logan shook his head. “I imagine they’re all in his warehouse where he keeps the merchandise. That’s the first thing we need to figure out.”
“Well, I’m sure he’d mention it if you bugged his office.”
Mattie, having caught that last bit, frowned at Logan.
“I could do that tonight,” Logan said. “He doesn’t seem to stay in his office long.”
Ariadne nodded. “Then, we’ll survey the guard numbers, and probably send Mattie with you when you clear him out.” She smiled. “Did I help?”
Logan nodded. “I’ll be back in a while.”
Once Logan left, Mattie sighed. “He better be careful.”
“He seems careful to me,” Ariadne replied.
Mattie slid in next to Ariadne. “And to think I just really wanted to meet Margaret Thatcher.”
“She’s been out of office for four years.”
“I know, but I still wanted to meet her. She’s such a badass.”
Ariadne nodded; she hadn’t exactly been interested in politics when Reagan and Thatcher were in office, but her family loved them.
They were probably so worried about her. She’d never been gone from home before, and it was getting close to four days that she had been gone. Did they figure she was with Logan and Mattie, or did they think something worse had happened?
“Could I call my parents?” she asked, originally intending it to just be a thought.
Mattie patted her shoulder. “I wish I could say yes.” He left his hand on top of hers. “If you really don’t wanna do this, Logan and I can take you home. I just don’t know if you’re gonna have the money you needed for school.”
That was one of her parents’ and hers last fights. Her father struggled to make enough to feed all six kids, and she was last in line for any kind of education fund. Even with scholarships, she wouldn’t have enough to make it through state school, let alone a school that would give her enough education to get far out of her crumbling life.
She owed it to herself to at least try to make some money. It’d lift their burden in the long run. Besides, they’d only get more worried if they knew where she was. They couldn’t understand.
“Why do you wanna meet Margaret Thatcher so much?” Ariadne asked.
Mattie shrugged. “My favorite foster dad loved her. He said she was awesome, so why not? I mean, hey, this stealing isn’t all work. We can have fun too. I mean, when in London, do as the English do.”
Ariadne laughed. “And what does that include?”
“I have no idea.” He pulled out a Bill Clinton bobble head. “Let’s ask Mr. President Clinton. What do you think we should do while Logan is out working?” Mattie changed his voice to a bad Bill Clinton impression. “Well Mattie, I think you two should go to the Tower of London and hunt ghosts. You can film it, sell it, and call it the Mariadne Ghost Escapades.”
Ariadne smirked. “We’re going to name it after we sell it? Why would they buy it without the snappy title?”
Mattie tossed the bobble head aside. “Details, details. C’mon!”
“Yeah, the place is pretty obvious—got my name on it. Yeah. No, there’s…the traffic on Brewer should be fine around then. The shipment’s ready to pick up. Just—yeah, you got it. Okay. Okay, great. It’s only a two block walk from my office. No, I wouldn’t have. Alright. See you soon.”
Logan and Ariadne exchanged a small smile as the speaker to the bug Logan had planted finally spewed out something important. Logan was on his feet seconds after, collecting his tools.
“I’ll give you the signal once I see what the guard situation looks like,” Logan said to his brother as he moved out the door.
Once the door shut, Ariadne’s smile faded when she saw Mattie.
“What’s wrong?” she asked.
The two had had such a fun night the evening before, and Ariadne had truly believed that Mattie’s dip was over.
Mattie took a seat on his bed and patted the spot next to him. “Could I get really real with you? What I want to tell you is…well, it’s not easy to swallow.”
Ariadne’s blood went cold, but she followed instructions. “Go ahead.”
“It’s about Logan.” She would never admit it, but it calmed her nerves just a pinch knowing it wasn’t about her convoluted family. “And me, I guess. This is how he told it…”
Logan had been playing Trouble with his father at the time, his mother in the other room passed out. Baby Mattie had exhausted her so much that she didn’t even make it to the bed. It started off as a knock. Sure, it was a bit late at night, but Henry Crowe wasn’t afraid of anything, or so Logan thought.
The first set of eyes that Logan saw belonged to an Arabian-looking man, his eyes so dark that they were nearly black. The man was slim, draped in black clothing, and with a certain confidence in the way he leaned off to his side, like a teenager as he smoked behind the Dumpster at school. The man’s face was clear: smooth tanned skin, chiseled cheekbones, and a hypnotizing smile. But, above all, Logan remembered his dark, dark eyes.
The men flanking him weren’t as noticeable: one was a blond man with a funny mustache and a strange bright colored tie, one was a tanned man in rich man’s clothing, one was another Arabian-looking man who kept his eyes down, and the last one was a white man with short brown hair, wearing black pants, dress shoes, a sweater, and a fedora.
The man with the dark eyes smiled as he entered. “How good to see you, Mr. Crowe.”
Henry Crowe looked back at his son. “Logan, ru—”
The dark eyed man shot him down with a single bullet, smiling the entire time. Terror sunk into Logan like the burning of a vaccine. His motives were split: save baby Mattie upstairs, warn his mother in the next room over, or hide. Being a panicking 11-year-old boy, Logan ran for a coat closet.
He dropped to his knees, peeking out through the shutters. There was a spare wool sweater on the floor, and Logan wrapped it around himself, hoping it would stop the shivers. His eyes immediately darted to his father.
It didn’t take a genius to figure out that he was dead. Even at eleven, Logan had watched enough movies to know that. Henry Crowe—once Logan’s biggest hero—was lying on the floor stomach up, pool spilling from his chest onto his clothes and the floor. It was embarrassing, the amount of blood. It stained his clean white shirt, it stained his pants. He could remember his friends snickering about one girl in his fifth grade class and how she’d stained her pants red. He didn’t want anyone to think that his dad had accidents like that girl.
He felt tears ready to cloud up his vision, burn his eyes, but he needed to see what happened next. Wiping his tears and snot with his sleeve, he pressed his face against the door, not once thinking that these men could want him as well.
His heart started thudding when he heard the scuffling into the room his mom was in. So much of him just wanted to scream “Take me! Leave my mommy alone!” but he never did.
His mother’s scream shook through him unlike anything he’d ever experienced before: more than the thunderstorms, more than when he stole his friend’s copy of 1984 and he threw a bunch of toy rats at him, and more than the first time his father slapped him as punishment for talking out of line.
He felt a scream bubble in his own throat, but swallowed it down. Despite the distractions that watching this warped nightmare unfold presented, survival instincts kept Logan’s hands at his sides and his feet on the closet floor.
He watched as the men formed a circle around his mother, now on the floor.
“Give me her,” the man with the fedora said.
“For what?” the dark eyed man asked incredulously.
The fedora man smiled. “You’re not the only one having the fun, Rasim.”
So the dark eyed man was Rasim. Logan noted it.
Rasim made a disgusted sound. “You’re a revolting man, Gray. Get it over with before I lose my dinner.”
Rasim turned away, playing with his gun as the other men gathered around to watch Gray. Logan watched in horror as Gray unzipped his pants and got down on his knees over his mother. She was a bit tired from what Logan could see, but thrashed and cried. The other two men kicked his mother, told her to shut up.
“You guys wanna have a go when I’m done?” Gray asked the men as he pulled Logan’s mother’s skirt down.
“No! This isn’t some brothel,” Rasim snapped.
The three men became quiet, as did Logan’s mother. Gray took his mother and pulled off something that not only made Logan blush, but got his stomach churning.
Her panties—something Logan was always taught was a woman’s private business—were on the dirty floor. From there, Gray got to work.
Raism didn’t even give Gray a moment to put his parts back in his pants before he pushed him aside.
“Dammit Gray, put your pants on. Lousteau, Egypt, get out of here.” The three men darted out of the room, only looking back to see if the woman was still alive. Rasim bent down to his mother. “I’m sorry Gray’s such a disgusting man. I wanted to give you dignity as you died.” He leaned down and kissed her forehead. “For good luck.”
And he shot her.
Logan didn’t allow himself to truly swallow the events until each man was out of his house. Once gone, he pushed the closet door open, crawled over to the body of his father, pulled himself onto his body, and cried. For hours, he cried. Cried so hard he couldn’t breathe.
By then, his little brother’s joined his cries, and that’s about when the neighbors called the police.
Ariadne had lost all the color in her face by the time the story ended. “Logan…watched that?” Mattie nodded. “What’s he gonna do if they meet face-to-face?”
Mattie swallowed. “I don’t know. But God, I knew there was something else to this. Logan had told me from the beginning that only Rasim physically killed our parents, but he seemed to eager to hit Gray first. God, if I had known…I don’t know what he’s gonna do.”
Ariadne looked around. “There’s a slim chance they’ll meet. We have to trust it.”
Mattie stood up. “Look, I don’t care what he says. I’m going down there and I’m stopping him. Gray may be a monster, but Logan’s not going to turn into one.”
What did I get myself into? Ariadne thought as the Crowe brothers were reduced to a walkie-talkie frequency.
After running as fast as he physically could, Mattie burst into the warehouse Gray kept his supplies, expecting to find Logan in a tussle with dozens of brawny guards.
Instead, he found a giant room filled with hundreds of teddy bears and cheap paperbacks.
There was a paperback strewn conspicuously in front of him.
Ari was right about the bears. She told me her hunch last night and she was right. Take your pocketknife and give Mr. Bear a little open-heart surgery before proceeding.
Mattie picked up a light brown bear with a set of blue overalls and two different colored buttons eyes and flicked his blade up. A quick incision showed a dull shine coming from the bear’s innards. Mattie stuck his hand inside and brought some of the shiny stuffing to the light.
It was gold. Shaved gold. He looked back to the note.
Great job finding the gold. Now grab as many as you can and start loading. I’m cracking Gray’s safe. And…seriously, don’t worry about what I told you. Mom wouldn’t have wanted me to hurt him, even though he hurt her. ~L
Mattie still felt uneasy, but he followed his brother’s instructions.
Logan walked into Jack Gray’s office, flicking the lock down behind him.
Jack Gray hadn’t aged much past a few wrinkles from tanning, including the sinister glint in his eyes. He raised an eyebrow at his visitor.
“What gives?” he demanded, Logan finally able to hear that oozing British accent come alive from the nightmares.
He swore he’d never forget the sound, and was surprised to find it sounded different. He wondered if Rasim would sound different.
Logan mirrored the quirked brow. “You don’t remember me?”
Gray moved from his seat. “I don’t have time for games. Who are you? Some client who didn’t get what you wanted? No refunds.”
Logan shook his head, a chuckle escaping from the back of his throat. “No, I’m not a client. We have a bit more…personal relationship.”
“Get on with it. I’ve got Lousteau bringing some girls in later and they deserve much more of my time.”
Logan’s guts twisted, but he kept a straight face. “Then I suppose you may remember my mother. You and her shared a moment sixteen years ago…Rasim shot down my father, and you roughed up my mother before Rasim finished her.”
Gray’s eyes lit up. “You’re the boy who shot out of the room.” He laughed. “Sorry about that one, mate. Bad luck, I suppose?”
Gray moved back to his desk and began leafing through a drawer. Logan moved forward.
“I suppose so.”
The second before Gray pulled out a gun, Logan had lodged a knife between Gray’s index and middle fingers. With Gray taken by surprise, Logan grabbed him by the arm and flipped him out of his desk and onto the floor beside him. Gray groaned, the slight crack Logan had heard probably coming from the wind being knocked out of the guy.
“Let’s see if your blood is as sweet as revenge says,” Logan said.
He picked up the decorative cane and slugged Gray the moment he tried to sit up.
And kept going.
Inspector Bianca Moretti wasn’t exactly excited to put an arrest in for Jack Gray, her mind in the places Logan Crowe had decided to infiltrate. She had been trying to shake his enigma from her thoughts, and there was still hope that Gray could distract her. After receiving her warrant, she marched up through Gray’s secret back entrance, handcuffs twirling on her belt and gun in hand.
As soon as she opened the door, it became clear that she wouldn’t need the gun.
“Kyle, go call the medics. I think we need some backup,” Bianca said to her partner.
Barely registering the sound of Kyle’s footsteps, she moved closer to Gray, unsure if even medics would be necessary. The sheer amount of blood spilled seemed to suggest a coroner would be a better person to call.
She moved over to Gray’s body, narrowly avoiding the mess. She put two shaking fingers to his neck.
By some miracle, his heart beat beneath her fingers.
Did Crowe do this?
She swallowed and moved to inspect his desk space, like she was supposed to do. There, she found plenty of numbers lists and locations to add to the ever-growing Erudite crime wave. Everything seemed to make sense except for a scrawl that read: 145 teddy bears.
All 145 of those teddy bears were stuffed into suitcases and shipping boxes to be sent back to Los Angeles, California to a house under the name Logan Crowe.
But, the residents weren’t returning. They were riding the Eurostar as Inspector Moretti found the body. The next man on the list was a whacky nightclub owner named Julien Lousteau. There was not nearly as much beef, so the fun thieving would finally commence.
Ariadne leaned into Mattie, clearly accepting her role as “a member of the family.” Mattie smiled as she took his hand.
Logan only half-watched his little brother and their newest gang member. He’d have to tell them eventually. He owed the two that much.
But, at that point, they deserved their happiness. There was a reason Mattie was asleep upstairs when the murders happened. Logan was always meant to bear the brute of the emotional pain. So, he’d do it. Logan Crowe, the thief, the serious one, the bearer, the survivor.
They deserved happiness and he deserved closure.
He got his closure.
It was time for their happiness.