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Authors: Aya De León

Uptown thief

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Uptown THIEFAYA DE LEÓNKENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.wwwkensingtonbooks.comAll copyrighted material within is Attributor Protected.Table of ContentsTitle PageCopyright PageDedicationAcknowledgmentsChapter 1Chapter 2Chapter 3Chapter 4Chapter 5Chapter 6Chapter 7Chapter 8Chapter 9Chapter 10Chapter 11Chapter 12Chapter 13Chapter 14Chapter 15Chapter 16Chapter 17Chapter 18Chapter 19Chapter 20Chapter 21Chapter 22Chapter 23Chapter 24Chapter 25Chapter 26Chapter 27Chapter 28Chapter 29Chapter 30Chapter 31Chapter 32Chapter 33UPTOWN THIEFDISCUSSION QUESTIONSMy Married BoyfriendTeaser chapterTo the extent that the image or images on the cover of this book depict a person or persons, such person or persons are merely models, and are not intended to portray any character or characters featured in the book. DAFINA BOOKS are published by Kensington Publishing Corp.119 West 40th StreetNew York, NY 10018 Copyright © 2016 by Aya de León All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any means without the prior written consent of the Publisher, excepting brief quotes used in reviews.  Dafina and the Dafina logo Reg. U.S. Pat. & TM Off.ISBN: 978-1-4967-0470-2 eISBN-13: 978-1-4967-0471-9eISBN-10: 1-4967-0471-1First Kensington Electronic Edition: August 2016 For Juana, the Jungle GirlAcknowledgmentsI would like to acknowledge the following people for their incredible help in making this book happen: my agent, Jenni Ferrari Adler, and Union Literary; my editors, Mercedes Fernandez and Esi Sogah, and all the folks at Kensington; Lulu Martinez, Sofia Quintero, Dana Kaye, Toni Ann Johnson, Susie Meserve, Galadrielle Allman, Simha Evan Stubblefield, Sara Campos, Shailja Patel, Tracy Sherrod, Jill Dearman, Cara Diaconoff, Tobe Correal, Bishop Yvette Flunder, Pastor Donna Allen, Adrienne Crew, Lisa McCalla, Alicia Raquel, La Bruja, Julia Hutton Randall, Diane Balser, Peechington Marie, Nova Anon, Shannon Williams,$preadmagazine, the St. James Infirmary, SWOP Bay Area, The Harm Reduction Coalition and Training Institute, Xanthos, Inc., MK Chavez, Sara Kershnar, Alisa Valdes, Cristina Garcia, Tim Hernandez, Brooke Warner, Carolina De Robertis, Pam Harris, BinderCon, HackerMoms, VONA, Sandra Garcia Rivera, Elmaz Abinader, Mat Johnson, Achy Obejas, Aurora Levins Morales, Torrey Maldonado, Gail Burton, Sharan Strange, my Tigress Crew: Kirsten and Jennifer, The Debutante Ball crew: Louise, Abby, Heather, and Jennifer. The crew of women who has helped keep me serene through it all: Carolyn, Peggy, Staci, and Julianna. My family: Stuart, Anna, Larry, Paci, Coco, and Dulari. And Natasha Bedingfield, for my anthem, “Unwritten.”Chapter 1FebruaryNew York City Marisol Rivera ran down the stairwell of the eighty-story building, trailing the banister with one hand and gripping the stolen brick of $10,000 cash in the other.The center of the stairwell was open. Three floors above, a door opened and a security guard pointed down and yelled, “There he goes!”In her ski mask and bulky black jacket, she had been mistaken for a man, but at closer range, they would see her curves and understand their mistake.Her bare feet thudded down the stairs, pressing off against the concrete steps.She ran for the fifty-seventh floor.Tyesha was holding an elevator car on the fifty-seventh. Numbers flashed by Marisol in the stairwell: sixtieth . . . fifty-ninth . . . She heard the boots of security guards thundering down above her head.Her calf muscles ached, and air burned in and out of her lungs. Her heart beat even faster than the rapid fire of her feet against the steps.She had just started down the final flight, when another squad of gray-uniformed security guards rushed out of the stairwell on the floor below.Had they caught Tyesha? Marisol clenched her body to a stop, one hand gripping the banister, and the accumulated forward motion sent her stumbling, almost falling down the stairs. She hurled herself back the way she had come and slammed against the push bar for the fifty-eighth floor.As she lunged into the hallway, she heard the chime of the elevator and the door began to open, maybe ten yards ahead.More guards? Would she be cornered?She ran faster, hoping to . . . to what? Hit the opposite stairwell? Where could she go?Before she could decide, she saw that the figure stepping from the elevator wasn't a guard, but a brown-skinned woman in a green cocktail dress and platform sandals—Tyesha.“Gracias a Diós!” Marisol breathed, as she peeled off her jacket and ski mask. She balled them up and tossed them into the elevator, as her long hair fell over her shoulders. Some of the strands stuck to her forehead, and a few ends tangled in the lacy neckline of her red blouse.“Hit some buttons!” she yelled to Tyesha. “Send it up.”Tyesha stabbed the elevator's Door Close button repeatedly.Marisol pulled her stiletto heels out of her oversize purse and shoved her feet into them. She left the $10,000.The two women stepped back from the elevator as the security guards stormed through the stairwell doors.“Please!” Marisol begged, looking into the empty elevator. “Don't hurt us!”The guards rushed closer as the elevator door began to close. Another few feet and they would see it was empty.“Step away from the elevator!” the security guard yelled.“He's got a gun!” Tyesha shrieked.“Wait!” Marisol wailed. “He might shoot us if you come closer.”The guards slowed their progress, as the metal doors gradually slid closed.The moment they shut, the two women fell back against the wall, gasping in relief.“Oh, thank God.” Marisol wiped the perspiration from her face with a handkerchief. As she returned the sodden cloth to her purse, she palmed the brick of cash and stuck it in the waistband of her black silk pants.Five guards approached the pair of women and surrounded them. Marisol shoved her purse back past her hip to hide the cash lump against the base of her spine.One guard was on the radio. “Suspect boarded the elevator on the fifty-eighth floor, headed up.”“Can you describe the assailant?” another guard asked Marisol and Tyesha.“Short, stocky build,” Tyesha said. “Maybe he was black.”“I'm not sure,” Marisol disagreed. “It was hard to tell in the ski mask.”“I'm sorry, ma'am,” the guard in charge said. “We'll need to do a search.” He called one of the young guards over.Marisol and Tyesha handed over their purses as a voice crackled over the radio: “Caught the elevator on sixty-three. Nothing but a ski mask and a jacket. A ceiling panel was loose. He must've climbed out. Seal the building for search protocol.”The young guard called to his superior. “Purses are clean.”The older guard stepped forward. “Now we'll do a pat down.”“We'd like a woman to search us, please,” Marisol demanded.The older guard pulled up the radio. “I need a female assist on fifty-eight to frisk two suspects . . .”* * *Two hours earlier, Marisol and Tyesha had been working in the office when Kim called.“Marisol, you'll never believe it,” Kim said, her voice thick with tears. “We're here at the corporate party but I'm hiding under the CEO's desk. He's a goddamn sex trafficker!”“He's what?” Outrage swelled in Marisol's chest. It took a few minutes to get the story out. Kim and her girlfriend, Jody, were escorting two clients to the after-party of an awards event where the host had been honored for humanitarian efforts in Mexico. But Kim recognized him as one of several CEOs acquitted—despite extensive evidence—in a Mexican sex trafficking scandal. Kim had followed the CEO and slipped into his office, where he had locked up the award. After he left, she had tried unsuccessfully to crack the safe.She was sobbing. “I can't breathe. I think I'm having a panic attack. I can't go back to the party and pretend everything's okay. But what was I thinking? I don't know how to open a safe.”But Marisol knew how. An hour later, she and Tyesha snuck into the party and Kim let her into the CEO's office. Marisol had smoothed Kim's glossy hair from her face, and coached her breathing back to normal.Kim was Korean and in her mid-twenties. Marisol had met her when she was a topless waitress in a seedy club. She worked eight hours, gave the occasional blow job, and didn't have health insurance. Now she worked one night a week and had a 401K.“I'm sorry,” Kim said. “I know these software guys pay a lot of money. I should've just rolled with it.”“No,” Marisol said, drying the girl's eyes. “When you're working and anything goes wrong, you call me. Always.”Kim nodded and blew her nose.“Go back to your date and act like nothing happened,” Marisol told Kim. “I'll take care of this.”Marisol had stolen the award and $10,000. She had almost reached the stairwell when someone yelled for her to stop.On the landing of the seventy-second floor, she'd pulled the ski mask over her face and sprinted down the stairs. She hurled the award down the center of the stairwell. The glass trophy was designed like a map of the world, with continents and the CEO's name in twenty-four-karat gold. As it fell tumbling through the air, the stairwell's fluorescent lights glinted off the crystal planes and smooth surfaces of gold. Seventy stories below, it crashed into the marble floor like a meteor, creating a ragged hole, an explosion of fine glass fragments, and bits of molten gold shrapnel.* * *On the fifty-eighth floor, the head of security returned with a female guard. A blond bun peeked out beneath the gray uniform cap.As she patted Tyesha down, the lead guard asked, “What were you two doing on this floor?”“We were looking for someplace quiet,” Tyesha said.“She's clean,” the female guard said of Tyesha.“We just wanted to be alone,” Marisol said, putting her arm around Tyesha. Behind their backs, Marisol slid the cash out and handed it to Tyesha.The man sneered. “No wonder you wanted a woman guard.” He pointed at Marisol. “Step forward.”Marisol let the woman pat her down as Tyesha slid the cash into her own purse.Marisol felt the woman's gloved hands patting down her body. The guard checked under her hair and ran a hand gently down her back, passing over the spot where the cash had been, barely a moment before.“Can we go back to the party after this?” Marisol asked. “I need a drink.”“She's clean, too,” the female guard said.“Party's over,” the head guard said. “We'll escort you to the ground level, where they'll check your IDs.”The two women stood flanked by both guards, as the elevator descended fifty-seven floors to the lobby.Marisol watched a uniformed guard do a slipshod job of sweeping shards of glass into a dustpan.At the security desk, Marisol and Tyesha handed over IDs for Lourdes and Danita, both with Long Island addresses. A guard copied the information, then let them go.As they approached the street door, the guard yelled, “Wait a minute!”Marisol turned around, her heart hammering.“You should use the other exit,” the guard said. “There's broken glass on this end.”“Don't worry,” Marisol said, steering Tyesha around the crater in the marble floor. “My shoes are invincible.”Chapter 2Eleven months later The cargo van sat at the snowy curb like a tropical fish in the middle of a vast white sea. Two inches of powder had accumulated on top of the vehicle. The van had been shrink-wrapped in a colorful vinyl advertisement: “The María de la Vega Health Clinic, serving the ladies of Manhattan since 2001.” The clinic's toll-free help line number and location followed. One vinyl patch on the bottom of the door was held down with duct tape.The van sat in a loading zone in front of the Lower East Side storefront clinic. Three teenage girls hurried into the clinic through the snow, their tight jackets and jeans as bright as the van. A moment later, Marisol Rivera, a caramel-colored woman in her thirties, stepped out of the clinic door into the snow. She carried two plastic shopping bags of homemade sandwiches and a jug of imitation juice. Rush hour traffic sped past, turning the powder to sludge. In contrast to the teenagers' hot girl clothes, she wore a tailored suit sanding down her curves, and high-heeled pumps. Her hair was pulled back into a loose knot. Underneath the suit, she wore a fraying baby carrier with a sleeping infant snuggled against her chest, a son of one of the clients. With her free hand, Marisol tucked the blanket more tightly around him.She crossed the grimy sidewalk and unlocked the back doors of the van with one of the keys from a ring on her belt. They granted her access to every lock in the clinic building—every door, desk, closet, file drawer, padlock, and supply cabinet.The two women who trooped out to join her looked like opposites, although both were in their twenties. Jody was a six-foot blonde white woman in athletic gear. Tyesha not only contrasted in size and color—she was African American and much shorter—but also in style. She wore designer jeans and boots, with bling jewelry. The three piled into the clinic's mobile health van. The interior had a plastic corrugated floor, and the walls were stacked with milk crates, which held medical and outreach equipment.Marisol pulled a clipboard off the wall, and sat cross-legged on the floor. She checked off items the van would provide during their run throughout Lower Manhattan that night.Tyesha peeked into a wax paper sandwich bag, and her bobbed hair fell forward, obscuring her heart-shaped face.“Peanut butter again?” she said, tucking her hair behind her ear.“That's government peanut butter,” said Jody, who had to crouch considerably to fit in the van. “No peanuts were harmed in the making of it.”Jody was a fearless street fighter. The muscles in her arms and back rippled as she moved several heavy supply boxes. Tyesha piled the sandwiches into milk crates and poured the juice into a plastic dispenser.“When I first started working here, we used to get turkey,” Tyesha said. “Real turkeys died for our sins back then.”“These bitches need to be happy they're getting food at all,” Jody said, taking a sandwich.“Hold up, ladies,” Marisol said. She brushed the snow from her hair. “Remember, you and our clients are not bitches. You are hoes.”The women laughed.“Bitches are dogs,” Marisol said. “But whores are . . . ?” She looked expectantly at Jody.“Professionals who get paid.” Jody grinned and high-fived Tyesha.“Thank you,” Marisol said. “Show some respect for the trade.”Marisol stood to hand the clipboard to Tyesha, and Jody noticed the infant carrier.“What the fuck?” Jody asked. “You brought someone's baby into our mobile health van?”“The son of a client,” Marisol said. “She missed her last two counseling appointments and needs help.”“Seriously, Marisol?” Tyesha asked. “You gonna add babysitter to your never-ending job description?”“If you're gonna start a nanny service in the van, can we at least have heat?” Jody asked. “It's fucking freezing.” She tugged her cap further down.“Waste of gas,” Marisol said. She unhooked some of the bungee cords that secured the milk crates. “We'll be out in a few minutes.”Tyesha put on a pair of rimless glasses and flipped to the second page on the clipboard. “Should the outreach team bother to go by Vixela's anymore, after last night?”“More underage girls?” Marisol asked. Vixela's was a strip club that advertised “private entertainment” in its warren of tiny back rooms.“Who knows?” Tyesha said. “They wouldn't let us operate there.”“Vixela won't let us park in front,” Marisol said.“We were parked in the back alley,” Jody said. “Her security guys kicked us out.”Marisol stopped counting HIV tests. “Out of the alley?”“I fucking hate her,” said Jody. She gripped one of the crates. Inside were stacks of flyers advertising the clinic's gala fund-raiser. “When my ex-girlfriend started working there, Vixela promised she could make good money just dancing. By the end, she was fucking four or five guys a night to make rent.”“Vixela's an old-ass hoe who's jealous of young girls,” said Tyesha. “All those pictures of her on the wall showing off her tits. Okay, I get it, Vixela, you wereva-va-voomback in the seventies. But your moment has passed.”“Like you always tell us, Marisol,” Jody said. “Don't build your whole life on being young and hot forever.”“You'll stop making money for yourself and start making it for your plastic surgeon,” Marisol said.Jody nodded. “When my ex worked there, we used to joke that she was fucking the guys just to pay for Vixela's cosmetic retrofitting.”“I don't understand how she could be face-to-face with me and lie,” Marisol said.“Cause that's not really her face,” Tyesha said.They laughed. The baby murmured and shifted in the carrier.“Marisol,” Tyesha whispered. “You should get that baby out of the cold. I can do the setup.”“He's fine,” Marisol said, patting him. She checked the expiration date on a box of condoms.“But won't the snow mess up your shoes?” asked Tyesha.“Not these,” Marisol said. She looked down at her invincibility shoes, classic black platform stiletto pumps, with springy material beneath the balls of her feet that made the five-inch heels tolerable. “They're made outta some indestructible type of patent leather. Wind, rain, sleet, snow. Nothing fucks them up.”“I need a pair like that,” Jody said. “What are they, Jimmy Choos?”“No way,” said Tyesha. “Those are Vera Wangs, right, Marisol?”“I don't know,” Marisol said.“How can you not know?” Tyesha asked. “Take off the damn shoe and check the label.”“That's the thing,” Marisol said. “I got them from this lady who sells shoes outta her trunk. She cuts out the designer labels and charges twenty-nine ninety-nine.”“I love deals like that,” Tyesha said.Marisol smiled. “Mymamialways told me that finding a bargain is God telling you He wants you to have nice things.” Her mother had described it like a signpost on the way to the good life. And occasionally Marisol saw her mother create the bargain herself by switching the price tags. Or in a big store she would take advantage of a missing inventory tag. This was also God, her mother had explained, because God created the opportunity.Her mother was always cool and discreet. She never boosted any item unless it was a sure thing. Once she'd left her raggedy sneakers in the box at a department store and walked out wearing snakeskin stilettos under her custodian's uniform. She left the store with her head held high, children in tow. After they got back to their one-bedroom apartment on the Lower East Side, her mother told them never to steal from people. Only stores.“So, where does your girl sell the kickstunners outta her trunk?” Tyesha asked.“Sometimes she's at West Twenty-seventh and—”The van rumbled and tilted.“What the fuck?” said Jody.Marisol swung the back door open and sprinted out. The van was being lifted up onto a tow truck by a short, barrel-chested guy.Jody balled her fists and advanced, but Marisol grabbed Jody by the hood of her jacket and pulled her back. “I'll handle this.”The baby started to cry.“What the hell are you doing?” Marisol asked the tow guy.“We're repossessing the van for nonpayment,” he said. He pulled a lever, and the chains began to pull the van up onto the back of the truck.“Bullshit,” Marisol said, over the baby's wailing. “Our account is up to date.” She bounced up and down, and the movement quieted the baby. Tyesha and Jody stood behind Marisol with their arms crossed. Several girls came out of the clinic and joined them.“I just tow who they say. Tell your boss we're taking the van.”“I am the boss,” Marisol said. “And if you wrongfully remove this vehicle, I'll sue your company in a heartbeat.”“You tell his stupid ass, Marisol,” said Nalissa, a young woman with hair dyed bright carrot red.“Defiende lo tuyo!”The guy shut everything off and the van stopped moving. By then it was halfway up onto the truck bed. He stalked around to the cab and pulled out a cell phone.“Crazy Spanish bitch,” he muttered.“That's crazy Puerto Rican bitch,” Marisol yelled back. “Learn your geography.”“Crazy Spanish bitch?” Nalissa said. “I'm a show you a crazy Dominican bitch!” She lunged toward the driver, but Tyesha and Jody grabbed her arms.“Cálmate, Nalissa,”Marisol said. “I got this.”With all the noise, the baby began to squirm and fuss. Marisol pulled him out and held him to her chest. He reached up and played with the locket around her neck.“Yeah,papi,” she said, opening the locket to reveal a little girl with two puffy blond pigtails and a missing front tooth. “You see that girl? That's Cristina, my baby sister.”Cristina was six years younger and had been more like a daughter in many ways. Now that Marisol was in her thirties, the difference wasn't so pronounced, but when Cristina was a baby, Marisol had cared for her at night, while their mother worked. Holding babies always reminded her of Cristina. Their mother died of breast cancer when Marisol was in middle school, her sister in elementary. After that, Marisol had fallen solidly into the mother role.As the baby tickled against her neck, Marisol had a bitter ache in her chest. Cristina was her family, the one person who really mattered.The engine rumbled. Marisol cursed and handed the child to Jody. The baby wailed. Marisol kicked off her heels and handed them to Tyesha, then scrambled onto the back of the tow truck, slush dripping from her stockinged feet.She opened the van door and yelled down to Jody, “Gimme the baby.”“You want me to—?”“Now!” Marisol yelled, stretching both hands out.Jody handed back the screaming baby. Marisol slid into the van's passenger seat and locked the door. The tow guy came around from the cab of the truck with an armful of brake lights.“What the fuck are you doing?” he yelled over the noise of the engine.Marisol rolled the window down a crack. “Watch your goddamn language in front of the baby.”“You need to get down from there,” he said. “It's not safe.”“I'll tell you what's not safe,” Marisol said, jiggling the baby on her knee. “Women working on the street with no health care. The city pays us to drive this van around and provide services for girls who can't come to the clinic.”“I'm calling the police,” he said.“Go ahead,” she said. “I'm calling the leasing company.” The baby flailed in her arms and knocked some papers off a bulletin board.She dialed her phone, and asked for the manager on duty. As she waited on hold, she rummaged through the clinic supplies. “Are you teething,papi?” She found a tongue depressor and he began to chew on it.The manager came on the line, as she dried the dripping slush from her freezing feet.“This is Marisol Rivera, executive director of the Vega Clinic on the Lower East Side. There's been a mistake. They're trying to repossess our van.” Marisol only called it the Vega Clinic when she was particularly pissed off. The place was named after her mother, so she enjoyed saying the full name: María de la Vega.“No mistake,” the manager said. “You've been late with every payment since last June.”“I have an arrangement with your bookkeeper,” Marisol said. “She gives me until the tenth.”“We have no record of that,” he said.“Put her on the phone,” Marisol said.“She no longer works here.”“She was working there when we made the verbal contract,” Marisol said. “I have her cell number and I bet she'd testify in court.”“What's the big deal?” he asked. “You'll get it back once you pay up.”“The big deal is the thousands of dollars of medical equipment we have inside. Besides, your driver can't take the van anyway, since I'm sitting in it.”“The van is already on the tow truck,” he said.“I'm in the passenger seat.”“You're what?”“With a baby on my lap,” Marisol said. He was happily chewing the tongue depressor. “In fact, the van was occupied when the towing process started. Highly illegal.”
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