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“Officer Dane?” it said again.

“I’m afraid you just missed him,” said Victor at last. He closed his eyes when he spoke, savoring the moment of quiet on the other end. If he concentrated, he could almost imagine Eli tensing at the sound of his voice.

“Victor,” said Eli. The word was a cough, as if the letters lodged in his chest.

“I admit, it’s clever,” said Victor, “using Merit’s police database to find your targets. I’m a bit insulted that I haven’t shown up on there yet, but give it time. I just got here.”

“You’re in the city.”

“Of course.”

“You won’t get away,” said Eli, the bravado dampening shock as it found its way back into his voice.

“I don’t plan to,” said Victor. “See you at midnight.” He hung up, and broke the phone in two, dropping both parts onto Dane’s body. The room filled with quiet as he considered the corpse, and then looked up.

“Sorry about that. You can clean up now,” he said to Mitch, who was staring slack-jawed at him.

“Midnight?” growled Mitch. “Midnight? As in tonight?”

Victor checked his watch. It was already four. “Never put off till tomorrow what you can do today.”

“I get the feeling that’s not what Thomas Jefferson meant,” muttered Mitch.

But Victor wasn’t listening. His mind had spent the morning spinning, but now that it was set, now that there were only hours standing in his way, the violent energy quieted and the calm finally settled over him. He turned his attention back to Sydney. “How about that hot chocolate?”

* * *

MITCH crossed his arms and watched them go, Sydney’s short blond hair bobbing as she followed Victor out. When she’d taken hold of his arm, her fingers had been ice, and underneath the chill, she’d been shaking. That bone-deep kind of shiver that had less to do with cold, and more to do with fright. He wanted to say something, wanted to know what the hell Victor was thinking, wanted to tell him that he was playing with more lives than his own. But by the time he found the one word he should have said, one small, simple, powerful word—STOP—it was too late. They were gone and Mitch was alone in the plastic-shrouded room, so he did his best to swallow the word and the sinking feeling that went with it, then turned to the officer’s body, and got to work.




MITCHELL Turner was cursed.

Always had been.

Trouble followed him like a shadow, clinging to him no matter how much good light he tried to stand in. In his hands, good things broke and bad things grew. It didn’t help that his mother died and his father bailed and his aunt took one look at him and waved him on, leaving Mitch to bounce between houses more like hotels, checking in and out, never putting down roots.

Most of his problems stemmed from the fact that people seemed to think size and intelligence were inversely proportional. They looked at him, at his hulking frame, and assumed that he was stupid. But Mitch wasn’t stupid. In fact, he was smart. Very smart. And when you were that big, and that smart, it was easy to get into trouble. Especially when you were cursed.

By sixteen, Mitch had dabbled in everything from back-alley boxing to running books to roughing up thugs who owed money to people who liked money. And yet it wasn’t any of those things that landed him his first stint in prison. In fact, he was innocent.

Mitch’s curse, his maldición, as a Spanish foster mother had called it, was that bad things had a way of happening around him. The woman had never known its dark extent (she used the term to refer more to broken plates and baseballs through windows and tagged cars), but Mitch suffered from a cosmic case of wrong place, wrong time, and given his many, mostly illegal extracurricular activities, he didn’t alibi out very easily.

So when a fight went wrong two streets over and left a man dead, and Mitch’s knuckles were still raw from the back-alley match he’d won the night before, it didn’t look good. He got off that time, but it was barely two weeks before it happened again. Another person died. It was uncanny and disturbing, and, though Mitch hated to admit it, a little thrilling. Or it would be, if Mitch didn’t keep getting caught in the middle. It was becoming a problem, this trail of bodies, because even though he didn’t make any of them, it certainly looked that way to the police, and by the third death, Metro PD seemed to think it would be easier to lock him up. Just in case. A hoodlum. A drain on society. Only a matter of time. The kinds of phrases tossed around by men playing catch with his life.

And just like that, with a curse and a rap sheet he didn’t earn, Mitchell Turner went to jail.

* * *

FOUR years.

He didn’t mind it so much, prison. At least he fit in. In the real world, people took one look at him and tightened their grip on their purses, quickened their pace. Cops took one look and thought guilty or going to be. But in prison people took one look and thought I want him on my side, or I don’t want to mess with him, or he could crack my skull in his elbow, or any number of far more useful thoughts. His size became a status symbol, even if it denied Mitch the perks of worldly conversation, and even if the staff considered him with skepticism when he checked out a book and was surprised when he used a word with more than two syllables. He spent most of his time trying to hack the prison computers’ various safety settings and firewalls, more out of boredom than a desire to cause any real trouble. But at least his curse left him alone.

By the time Mitch got out of jail, he looked more the part than ever. The imposing teen had graduated into a towering adult, flecked with the first of many tattoos. Once out, he lasted a month and a half before the curse caught back up with him. He’d gotten a job in food distribution, mostly because he could unload four times the weight of any other guy on the truck, and because he liked physical work. He might be mentally cut out for a desk job, but he doubted he’d fit behind most desks. And everything was going smoothly—shitty apartment and shitty pay but all legally valid—until a man was beaten to death a few blocks from where his crew was unloading peaches. The cops took one look at Mitch and booked him. No bloody knuckles, and two coworkers to swear he had his arms full of fruit the whole time, and none of it mattered. Mitch went straight back to prison.

Good behavior and a staggering lack of evidence got him out in a matter of weeks, but Mitch, in a rare display of cynicism, decided that if he was going to go to back to jail (and given his curse, it was a matter of when, not if), he might as well commit a crime, since serving time on behalf of others wasn’t an entirely satisfying use of his life. And so, Mitch set out to plan the one crime he’d always wanted to commit, for no better reason than it was the subject of books and movies, an archetypal affair involving brains far more than bulk.

Mitchell Turner was going to rob a bank.

* * *

MITCH knew three things about robbing a bank.

The first was that, because of his easily identifiable appearance, he couldn’t actually go into the bank. Even if he disabled the security cameras, the people inside would pick him out of a hundred-person lineup (with his luck, even if he wasn’t in it). The second was that, given the advances in security-based technology—many of which he’d learned about through observation in prison, but knew to be far more evolved in the private sector—a large component of the heist’s success would lie in hacking the bank’s systems and codes to disable the vault, which could be done remotely. The third was that he would need help. And thanks to the two prison stints he’d served so far, Mitch had developed a fairly extensive list of acquaintances, many of whom would be stupid, desperate, or otherwise willing enough to take up some guns and set foot inside the bank.