4. Making a Deal

 

Gasps came from all over the marketplace. Two men, one holding Mr. Nestor's valuable money box, ran into the market. I nearly lost sight of them as I peered through lines of people.

I looked back and forth between the two men and the shop, unsure of what to do. Their faces were covered in a thin veil that high-class women would sometimes wear.

Instinctively, I ran after the thieves. "Stop!" I yelled at them as if it would do any good. I trailed them to the edge of the crowd before they dashed through an alley out of sight. "Please!" Tears clouded my vision, and I stopped to catch my breath.

People whispered and stared like the useless bunch of cattle they were.

Frustrated, I ran back to the shop. I cursed myself for leaving, not that I would have been able to prevent what happened.

I was robbed again. But it wasn't really my money anymore. Why did these things keep happening to a good man? I didn't understand.

When I got back, I leaped over the windowpane and nearly slipped on the broken glass on the floor.

 "Mr. N-," I paused when I noticed him smiling. He had positivity like a bad case of measles. "Mr. Nestor, are you okay?" I asked breathlessly. He didn't look hurt, but that smile threw me way off. It wasn't a maniacal, angry smile. I could tell because of the lines it caused on the corners of his eyes and on his bald head. Only authentic smiles have those.

"Don't worry, dear, I'm fine." He turned around and bent over. Wood slid against wood on the floor. "They didn't get everything," he said and turned around, presenting a small coin purse. It jiggled in his hand, and honestly, didn't sound like much.

"Why are you smiling? You were just robbed!" My heart still pumped furiously, and my eyes were wet. My hands flew every which way, as I was more animated when I was angry.

His smile faded, and he looked at me like I was the one being unreasonable. "Katya, get control of yourself. It's not proper for a young lady to shout at an elder."

Oh, he hadn't heard shouting yet.

My head was clouded, and my anger got the better of me. "You're like twenty-five, dude! You're not my elder. Don't you have any self-preservation instincts at all?"

Mr. Nestor furrowed his brows and looked down, then turned away and put the purse back in the floor. He took a deep breath. "You're grounded. Go up to your room and reconsider your words."

My jaw hit the floor. "But-"

"You continue to backtalk?" he interrupted and turned back around to face me again. He raised his finger and pointed at the door to the stairs.

My lips formed the words in my mind, but I couldn't produce the breath required to say them. I wanted to help pick up the glass on the floor, but I knew he would just tell me to go upstairs again.

So I went upstairs. I didn't storm off or make a scene because I realized I was obstinate. 'Complice followed me up. I took a piece of nearly rotten fruit from the table in the tiny living room and closed the door to my bedroom behind me.

"I can't believe that man," I said to the dog as I undressed and took my new yellow chiton off from around my waist. If he hadn't been so distracted, he might have noticed the protrusion it made under my old garments.

Silver linings, I guess.

The bed welcomed me, and I lied there for a long while. I wished I had a book, but much to my disdain, all I could do was think about what I had said.

I didn't necessarily regret it. Mr. Nestor was in the wrong. He wasn't my elder, and he really needed to show a little concern for his situation.

The more I contemplated it, the angrier I became, so I decided to make a mistake. I knew it would be, but I didn’t care. If I could find out where those thieves went, I could get back the stolen money. No doubt they've stolen from more people and would have even more coin for the taking.

I stuffed my sheets to make it appear that I was in bed and opened my window. "All right, ‘Complice, stay here, and pretend that that clump on the bed is me, okay?"

He gave me a blank stare, and I vaguely wondered why I bothered.

My window was high, and a fall wouldn't feel good, but the wall had enough inconsistencies that I could climb down.

My hair brushed against my face, so I put it up in a quick ponytail. I made my way down carefully and felt relieved when my feet touched the ground.

Mr. Nestor would most likely see me if I went towards the shop's front, where the thieves went, so I went around the block until I came to the market. When I rounded the corner a block away, I looked towards the shop and saw Mr. Nestor cleaning up the glass. No one was helping him, and some people even stopped to make fun of him.

It took everything I had not to go up and berate those people, but I collected myself and took the opportunity to dash into the market. I went towards where I saw the thieves go but was forcefully pulled backward onto my butt.

"You! Where is the chiton?" Jason demanded, looking down at me.

The sun made his head look like a lantern.

Jason's arms were half the size of my torso, and he was vein-poppingly mad. He wasn't going to hit a teenager, though, so I had no reason to worry.

I got up and dusted myself off, even though it didn't make a difference. "That was incredibly rude, and-ack!" Jason put a hand up like he was about to strike me, and I put my hands up in reaction.

"Listen, girl. I know you took it. Give it back. Now. Or else."

I looked around and saw some people glancing at the confrontation, but everyone pretended not to notice. Furrowing my eyebrows and giving him the death stare, I lifted up my dirty chiton. "See! I don't have it!"

I was wearing my strophion, so I wasn't nude underneath.

"Oh! Come on," he said as he averted his eyes. When I lowered the dress back down, he raised his hand again, but this time, he hit me. He hit me with all the force of a grown man.

Pain seared into my cheek and spread everywhere above my neck. The sheer forced knocked me flat on my ass, which would surely bruise.

A random bystander began to scold him, and so his focus was temporarily off of me. For some reason, though, it took me a while to capitalize on it. I was dumbfounded. This grown man hit me in front of everyone.

As soon as his eyes came back to me, I got up and ran. "Hey! Thief!" He grabbed my ponytail, which unraveled as I wrestled away from him. My hair flew behind me as I dashed through the crowd, taking turns now and then to confuse him.

I stopped and crouched behind a market stall to catch my breath. The vendor somehow didn't notice me behind him, and I saw a knife under his counter.

The more I could change my look, the easier it would be to escape. Sweat beaded on my forehead and my eyes constantly shifted to and fro.

Quickly but quietly, I grabbed the knife and pulled my hair together with my other hand. I cut most of it off and let it fall to the ground.

I'll be honest, I didn't mean to steal the knife, but I did forget to put it back. I folded my chiton over the blade as not to alarm anyone. "Have you seen a little homeless girl run through here?" I heard Jason ask in the crowd somewhere.

I have to get further away, find some different clothes. I got up and fast-walked away. A smile crept along my face as I found something spectacular. Jason's stall. Unmanned and unguarded.

I looked around and didn't see anyone paying me mind, and so I went behind his counter and swiped a hefty coin purse he left behind.

There wasn't any time to be picky, so I grabbed a random light-green chlamys to cover up my chiton. It wasn't pricey looking, but at least it made me look less—what did he say?—homeless.

I tightly secured the chlamys's button on my shoulder, pulled the cloak around my chiton, and then wandered into the crowd with my head down.

It was easy to avoid Jason. He yelled for me, making even more of a scene. Avoiding his gruff voice, I made my way towards the alley the thieves went.

The market was circled by an open space typically used for travel, with various buildings on the other side. Once I got there, I started asking people if they had seen anything.

I stopped a middle-aged woman with a basket of fruit. "Excuse me, ms., but did you see two men in veils run through here?"

She barely acknowledged me, shook her head, and walked away. I asked a few more people, who gave me little more than a polite and sometimes not so polite "no."

The people of Orna are cold.

Just when I was about to give up and go home, a young white man no older than Mr. Nestor came up to me. He was wearing a red chlamys and had long brown hair, some of which covered his face. "Heard you was lookin’ for a couple thieves." He crossed his arms and grinned at me. Chills tap-danced on my spine.

I side-eyed him, unsure of his intentions. "Yeah… You know anything?"

He shrugged. "Maybe you can buy some information off me."

"Of course. Why can’t you just tell me?" I fully faced him and crossed my arms in a futile attempt to seem tough.

He lifted his finger to his chin and looked up. "Well, you might give me that there coin purse you nicked from Jason, or I could hand you to him."

I blushed with anger. It didn't take much, though, and after a couple of seconds, I handed him the purse. "You a friend of his?"

The man laughed a deep belly laugh. I looked around in case he was drawing attention. "Oh, no, no, no. I hate that bastard. I just wanted the satisfaction of having his money."

For some reason, I felt relieved at that. "Me too, to be honest." I'm not sure why I confessed that. It sort of just slipped out, and after I said it, I quickly looked at him to gauge his reaction.

He looked down at me, smiled, and shuffled around in the purse. "Jason does all right," he remarked in surprise. He took out a few coins and held them out to me. "The name's Myron."

I stared at the three drachmae in his hand with confusion. Was this some test? Was he going to snatch it away as soon as I reached for it, just to make fun of me?

I moved my hand slowly toward his and was shocked to feel the slick copper. I took them before he changed his mind.

Bowing because being pretentious is fun, I introduced myself. "Katya. Pleased to make your acquaintance."

"I like your hair, kid. Very stylish," he said with the smuggest smirk I’d ever seen. I hated being called a kid.

"Thanks, I just got it cut," I said flatly. "Now, didn't you promise information?"

Myron looked up at the sky and straightened his back. "Take a walk with me."

"But-"

"Did you want to see where they went or not?" he said and began to walk away.

It wasn't the fact that I would be following a strange man that bothered me, weirdly enough. I was more than confident in myself. It was the fact that he wandered into the open area towards a part of town I was unfamiliar with.

I jogged to catch up and walked by his side. "How far is it?"

"’Bout a mile. How important is it that you find them?" His attention seemed to be elsewhere, and he naturally stuck to the shadows without seeming to try.

"Very much so. They took money from my, uh, Guardian's shop. He doesn't deserve to be stolen from, and he has a big debt he needs to pay." I wasn't sure how much information to share, but something about Myron made me feel like I wanted to keep talking. I couldn't put my finger on it. Maybe it was his casual nature or the fact that he split some of the coin purse with me.

"Ah, Nestor? Yeah, he’s a good man, him. There’s far worse." We turned a corner into a residential area. Everything I saw was unfamiliar territory.

"You know Mr. Nestor? Or did you just see me in his shop?" I wasn’t much phased by his knowledge of Mr. Nestor, as he saw me steal from Jason, so why wouldn't he have seen me at the shop, too? But how long had he been watching me?

"I don't. Or at least I haven't met him. To tell you the truth, I was scopin' out The Humble Wares, but those guys hit it before I could. I saw where they went to, and when I came back to the market, I happened to see you climb down the second-story window. You're quite the thief. You got deft hands." Myron stopped and leaned against the corner of a large, two-story building.

It looked like a community house. The second story had several balconies, and the base was surrounded by a low wall.

I tilted my waist and put my hands on my hips. "You were going to rob me? Tsk, tsk. That's pretty rude." My cheeky smile made him grin, and he nodded his head towards the building he leaned against.

"Know where we are?" he asked.

"Obviously not. I've never been this far east." I looked up at the sun and judged that it must have been around two hours until nightfall. "We should probably wrap this up. It's getting late."

He walked up close to me. So close, I could smell his breath. It was oddly fresh, like tea, which didn't suit his scruffy appearance. I didn't back away. I was desperate to prove my worth. "This buildin' is home to the biggest crime family in north Damia. The whole damn land. The same people Nestor owes that money to. The Othonos family."

All my gusto fell. My knees went weak, my smile turned to straight fear, and I found myself unconsciously backing away from the building like it would attack me.

I looked around manically. "What the hell are we doing here? Why did you bring me here?"

Myron grabbed me by the arm and pulled me closer. "Calm down, kid. They barely know who you are and don't know me from a melon in a forest."

I lowered my voice in case the walls themselves were listening. "Let go of me. I'm no child." I said and wrestled my arm free. I backed away a couple of feet but stopped to show him I was calm, even though I really wasn't.

"Listen, sweetheart," he said. I clenched my fist. "You might as well familiarize yourself pretty well with this neck of town because you're helpin' me get a mighty hall from these people."

I shook my head as if I misheard him. "What? Are you insane? Why would I do that?"

His lips slowly moved into a smile. It took an eternity to fully form, and his eyes narrowed in on mine. "Because I'd like the help, and I have leverage. I know where you live, and you made the mistake of makin' an enemy that I could just turn you in on."

Sweat covered my entire body, although I was chilled inside, nearly shaking. "B-but…"

"No worries, you can keep twenty-five percent. It’ll be more than enough to pay off Nestor’s debt. You do want that, right?"

If Mr. Nestor couldn't pay up, those people would probably kill him and claim his shop as payment. I would be out of a chance at having a home and be forced back into the orphanage.

"Well?" he asked.

It was a no-brainer. I didn't have a choice. "Okay. I'm in," I said.