It was just after midnight, and four guards came on duty at the David L. Pierce Art and History Center in Aurora, Illinois. The four of them started on the same day, on different shifts, they worked well with their co-workers, and fit in well with the rest of the three shift teams.
They had been working at the Center for a few weeks and were very excited about a new exhibit that was coming. One of the largest privately owned jewelry collections in the world was touring the U.S. and the four of them had a particular love of expensive things. Jewelry in particular.
Apollo, Jayden, Pheonix, and Troya, weren’t who they seemed to be. They were more than security. They did all they had to do to ensure what they planned was gonna go off without any issues, or they would have to answer to the man who was truly the mastermind behind their guise. Four thieves landed jobs in the same museum for a very specific reason. They were going to steal a jewelry collection worth millions. Their boss used his influence as a private collector to help his “friends” get in.
Once they were in, they were to get all the details they could about the museum. Floor plans, security, keys, codes, and anything else that was going to allow them to steal millions in jewels.
That night was the night they were going to do their security jobs and leave town, never to be heard from again. At least that is what they hoped was going to happen. Every time they pulled a job, there was always the risk someone would catch them, but they trusted their boss. Over the years they had been together, he had made them rich.
They went to the security booth to get their turn over briefing from the four guards that were going home.
Apollo, beautifully tan skin covered his entire muscular, well fit body. His intense blue eyes were framed by well groomed full facial hair. Where Johnny’s hair was brown, his was black, short, and gelled. Apollo looked at one of the monitors and noticed someone who was not supposed to be in the museum that night. “What’s Wally still doing here?”
Jake, the lead on second shift smiled. “Oh, he’s leaving. He was working late.”
“On what?” Apollo asked.
Jake continued to smile. “He’s a curator. Who knows? But we were aware he was gonna be here late tonight.”
Apollo sighed in relief. He didn’t want to have to kill Wally, but he would have if it meant he got to keep his own life. “Okay good. So if that’s it, you all can go home.”
Jake stood from his chair and slapped Apollo on the shoulder. “Take care, my friend. We’ll see you all tomorrow.”
Apollo put on his best false smile and replied, “Tomorrow.”
They waited until the second shift was gone and sure they were not coming back.
Pheonix, ridiculously tall for a woman, had dark hair, wide expressive light brown eyes, and a well fit body to match. She was a catch for any man, but she was exclusive, and had always been. “So, are we gonna torch the place or what?” She asked.
“Damn, girl. Always looking to set some shit on fire.”
She smiled at Apollo. “I aim to please.”
Troya agreed. “Better to leave as little as evidence as possible.”
Jayden snapped his head toward his teammate. Long blond hair framed his chiseled facial features and light brown eyes. An athletic body rounded out his good looks. “Stop worshiping the ground Pheonix walks on. You will never be as good as she is, and that is the bottom line.”
Both women team members, slightly offended, Pheonix spoke up. “Shut the fuck up, Jayden. You still don’t know what I am capable of, even after all this time. If Troya says something, you had better believe that I said it first.”
“If we fuck this up, Johnny is gonna be pissed,” Jayden added. “He will not get the chance to kill me.”
“If all of you don’t shut up, he won’t have too. I’ll do it myself. Let’s get to work.” Apollo said, tired of the minor bickering.
The team made sure there was no one in the museum but themselves by patrolling the building for an hour. They checked closets and dark corners to ensure they were alone. Once the initial patrol was finished, they met back at the security station.
“Okay, it’s just us. Jayden, kill the lights around the exhibit,” Apollo demanded. Jayden punched in a combination of various numbers and letters. Suddenly, the lights around the exhibit went dark. “Now, the security system.”
Jayden poked at a few more buttons, and watched the monitor in front of him. “Done.”
Apollo turned to Pheonix. “You stay here. We will be back soon. We will poke our heads into this room and go to the car. Pheonix get close to the exhibit as you can, but remember to stay out of camera range, and get the fire going. Afterward, Troya, you turn the system back on. Once we come back, the both of you have ten minutes, and then we are out of here. Got it?”
The three remaining team members nodded and went about their business.
One hour later, they were sitting in their boss’s office with everything he’d asked them to get.
Johnny grinned widely looking at the expensive haul. “Very good. When I find a buyer, you will all get your cut. Watch the news tomorrow. I promise you will be a part of history, once again.”
“Johnny,” Apollo started, “maybe we should chill for a while.”
Johnny glared at his second. “Why?”
“Cause, this one was a little close to home. I mean, I don’t doubt your intellect, but damn, we live way to close to this one.”
Johnny didn’t say anything for a moment. He quietly took his time and glared at each one of his team members. “Pheonix, the building is ash right?”
Pheonix nodded. “Of course. I used an untraceable accelerant. I did my job. Don’t go looking to pin this on me if shit goes wrong.”
A skeptical smile played at his mouth. “So if we get caught, who do we blame?”
Pheonix looked around the room at her teammates. She would never blame any of them for anything. They were a team. “No one.”
Johnny looked around the room. “Good job. Okay Apollo, we’ll chill for a while. Just not too long. In six months, one of the most valuable diamonds in the world will be coming right through here. I want it. I want it so bad I have already set up a buyer for it.”
“Johnny, that’s dangerous,” Jayden chimed.
“So, you doubt me now?” Johnny asked, glaring at Jayden.
Jayden cowered at his leaders glare. “No. I’m just saying a lot can go wrong before we even go in to get it.”
Johnny smiled a crooked smile. “Heh. My buyer is not exactly on the straight and narrow himself. Don’t concern yourself with that Jayden. We’re fine. Now, go home. I will have your payment in a week. See you all later. Apollo, you stay.”
Apollo immediately sat back down in his chair. Johnny sat for a minute and waited until he was sure the others were gone.
“I wanted to talk to you about something.”
“What is it?”
Johnny tapped his pen on the desk. “Venus.”
“What about her?” Apollo asked.
“I don’t I want her anymore. But knowing what she knows she can’t live.”
Apollo nodded in agreement. “I know that, so what’s the problem?”
“I can’t kill her.”
For the first time in years, Apollo saw vulnerability in his leader. “Johnny, if you dump her, you have to kill her. She knows too much about what we do.”
The pen that had been going constantly on the desk suddenly stopped. Johnny gazed at his long time friend. The look in Johnny’s eyes told Apollo that Johnny wanted him to do it.
Apollo shook his head. “No. I’m not gonna kill her for you. So you can just forget about that. Shit, you are the one sleeping with her, and you are the one who let her in on our secret. It is on you to take care of her if you don’t want her around anymore. I have enough death on my hands.”
“So you are saying no?”
“You’re damn right I’m saying no. Your girl, your problem.”
Johnny sighed. “Okay. Just thought I’d ask.”
More curious than he was before, Apollo asked, “So, why now? Why do you want to get rid of her now?”
Johnny’s pen started tapping on the desk again. “No reason. I just don’t want her anymore. Thanks, Apollo. Soon we can start planning for the next job.”
“Six months, Johnny. You promised.”
Johnny nodded. “Yeah. Go home. I’ll talk to you later.”
Apollo stood from his chair and left the chilly room. Johnny sat for a while longer and thought about what he was gonna do about his woman issue. He didn’t think about it too long. He, himself got up, gathered his riches, and left his office not long after Apollo left. All the while thinking that things could go one or two ways. Johnny hoped that it would work out. He didn’t want to kill one of the best things that happened to him even though he no longer wanted her.
A week later, Johnny sold all the goods in his last heist, and he had the cash to disperse to his team. He called his team together to give them their cut. Troya being the newest member of the team had questions as she always did.
Troya, slightly shorter than Pheonix, with the same dark hair, and piercing dark brown eyes, looked around the room and only saw five people. “Johnny, you always divide up our hauls six ways, yet there are only ever five of us here. Who is the sixth person?”
Jayden and Apollo glared at her sharply but didn’t answer. Troya posed her question towards her leader, and it was on him to answer.
“Pheonix, where did you get this garbage?” Johnny asked, not aware that the garbage he referred to was someone very close to her.
Pheonix suddenly on guard replied, “Johnny she doesn’t understand us yet.”
The frustration was evident in his voice. “Well when? It has been months. I trusted you when you said you knew another pyro. I know you better get her ass in gear.”
Fearing for her life, Pheonix answered, “Forgive me, Johnny. I’ll work on that.” Pheonix glared at her apprentice. Troya knew not to utter another word.
Johnny still hadn’t gotten his answer. “So answer me, Pheonix. Where in the hell did you find her?”
Pheonix hung her head. “She’s my sister.”
“Your sister? Is that what you said?”
“Yeah. My sister.”
Johnny smirked and shook his head. “She’s out.”
Pheonix stood in protest. “Johnny, you can’t do that. You let her in. If we kick her out now…”
“You knew the consequences when you invited her.”
“And you didn’t have to say yes.”
His green eyes turned to fire, shooting a sharp look at her. “But I did, because I trusted you.”
Pheonix knew what Johnny meant. “Fine. But I will not have the rest of the team berating or belittling her. Her screw ups are mine.”
The ends of Johnny’s mouth turned up slightly. “Don’t want her to die?” Pheonix didn’t answer. The ends of his mouth turned up more. “Thought so. Handle it, Pheonix.”
She sat back down in her seat.
Just then, Venus walked into Johnny’s office.
“Hey babe,” she grinned, ignoring the others in the room.
Johnny rolled his eyes. “Venus, I am in the middle of a meeting.”
Venus looked around the room and saw familiar faces. “Really?
Johnny nodded. “Really. Wait for me outside, please.”
“Babe, I saw something I want,” Venus said, ignoring what was going on around her.
“Certainly, just not now. Can we talk about it later?”
“You never want to talk to me lately. What’s going on, Johnny?”
Johnny turned his attention to Apollo and didn’t utter one word. Though Apollo previously objected, he recognized the look. He stood and engaged Venus as he knew he should.
“Venus,” Apollo said. “We’re busy.”
“Doesn’t look like that to me.”
“Believe me, we are. Johnny will talk to you later.”
“Why do you always shoo me away, Apollo?”
“Cause it’s my job. Now, go on. Johnny will talk to you later.”
Offended and a little surprised, Venus turned back and looked at Apollo. “Your job?”
Apollo nodded. “Yes. Go on now. Johnny will talk to you when we are finished.”
Resisting the hand that was on her back pushing her from the room, she looked back at the man who was supposed to love her. “Let me know when you are ready to talk, Johnny.”
Johnny nodded. “Apollo, get her out of here.”
Venus left the room escorted by her man’s second in command. She wasn’t necessarily happy, but she did interrupt his meeting.
Sateria’s new job was perfect. A restaurant far away from her neighborhood so no one knew where she was going when she left every morning. Her shift started about mid morning. She was a part of the lunch crew. They were normally busy which was good for her. Her tips were good and her day went fast. Happy she had landed the job, she thought about the interview she had to deal with before she got the job.
Her potential boss, Charlotte smiled at her. “Welcome. Glad you could make it.”
Her interview smile was just a bit different from her everyday smile. “Thank you.”
“So, Sateria, tell me about you…”
Internally Sateria rolled her eyes. She hated that question. She felt it was an interviewer’s cop out. Yet she answered it anyway. “Well…”
One week later, she had the job. She went to work daily, still thinking of her mother, and trying not to think of Brad. Most days were better than some. However, Sateria pushed through.
She was at work one day, not working her normal station when a very handsome man entered the restaurant. Tall, green eyes, dark hair, and a well fit body. He came in wearing a dark suit and two other very good looking men were with him. Sateria was surprised she looked at a customer as long as she did, but she couldn’t help it. A sucker for handsome men, she stared long enough to figure that he belonged to someone. That would keep her head in her job and not on the one she saw that particular day.
Over a period of two months, Sateria noticed that this particular man came into the restaurant often. Not fortunate enough to be at the station where he sat when he came in; Sateria continued to stare every time she saw him.
One day, he came in with the same two friends and that day was the day she finally got to meet the man she had been staring at for weeks. She just finished taking the order of the table opposite his. She turned around and was surprised to see him sitting there.
Her heart skipped a beat, and hopefully the shock at seeing the handsome figure at her station didn’t show.
“Hello, and welcome to Grand Lux Café. I’m Sateria. What can I get for you today?”
Johnny ordered, and Sateria was less than pleased at his request. In the end, he got what he wanted.
Sateria rolled her eyes in disgust at his arrogance, even though she now knew he owned the restaurant. Watching her ever changing facial expressions, Johnny was instantly attracted to her. He was pleased that she was not easily swayed by impossible requests from her customers.
When Sateria returned to the table with their food, Johnny’s green eyes shown brightly as he asked, “Sateria, was it?”
She put on her best fake smile. “Yes, sir.”
“How long have you worked here? I don’t recall ever seeing you before?”
“It has been just over two months, sir.”
Johnny smiled widely. “You are very good at what you do, and that makes me happy. You will keep good customers coming back. Thank you, Sateria.”
Happy someone appreciated her work; her smile was genuine this time. “You’re welcome, Mr. Gianopoulos. I will leave you to your food. If you need anything, please ask.”
Johnny nodded. “I will.”
Sateria did her best not to bounce away from his table. It had been a while since someone complimented her to her face for any reason.
Johnny watched her as she moved from table to table. Apollo noticed Johnny watching Sateria, and not eating a bit of his food.
“What’s the matter?”
Johnny shook his head. “She is so…nice.”
Jayden chuckled. “Yeah, she is quite pretty.”
Johnny glared at Jayden. “I didn’t say that.”
It was Apollo’s turn to chuckle. “You didn’t have too.” Her beauty did not escape his eyes either.
Johnny chuckled and began to cut into his steak.
When the meal was finished, Sateria brought them the check. “Here you go Mr. Gianopoulos, and please come again.”
Johnny flashed his perfect smile that only accented his natural good looks. “Thank you, Sateria. I will.”
Johnny reached for his wallet to pay for the meal. He pulled his credit card and a bit of cash for her tip from his wallet. He placed both inside of the check cover, and waited for her to come back to the table. Sateria picked up the check without words, and went to the register. When she got there, she opened the cover to find that he had grossly overpaid.
She ran his meal on his credit card, and quickly went back to his table.
“Excuse me, Mr. Gianopoulos. It seems that you have given me too much money.”
Johnny looked up at her and replied, “Oh? Why would you say that?”
“Well, I assumed that you are paying for the entire table, at fifteen percent, my tip would be eighteen dollars. At eighteen percent, my tip would be twenty-one dollars and some change. At twenty percent, my tip would only be twenty four dollars.”
Johnny grinned. “You are very good at math.”
Sateria was not amused. “Mr. Gianopoulos, I put your meal on your credit card, but there is no way that I am going to accept a tip this large.”
“A thousand dollars too much?” Johnny asked, still grinning. Sateria almost offended, nodded. “Okay then, how much would you accept?”
“If you feel I have given you excellent customer service, then twenty percent is as high as I will allow you to tip me.”
Johnny sat and became more attracted to her with each passing moment. “Allow me to tip you? I don’t have to tip you at all, Sateria. You do realize that right?”
Sateria nodded, now upset that she may have talked herself out of any tip at all. “Yes, sir.”
Johnny stared at her admiring her fiery green eyes, and her tan skin. He didn’t reply for a few moments in an effort to shake her up. He soon found out that he couldn’t do it. He sighed. “Okay. You did give me excellent customer service so a twenty percent tip it is.” He took back all of the 100 dollar bills and placed a single one back in her hand. “Can you break this for me then? I’m afraid I don’t have anything smaller.”
Sateria took the money and went to make change. When she arrived back at his table, she gave him his change and allowed him to give her the twenty-four dollar tip.
“Thank you, Mr. Gianopoulos. Have a nice day.”
She attempted to walk away when Johnny stopped her. “Sateria, is Charlotte here?”
“As a matter of fact she is.”
“Can you please ask her to come and see me?”
Sateria worried she was about to be fired, remained calm. “Certainly.”
Charlotte, usually floating around the restaurant observing her wait staff and always there to help if need be, was not. She was in her office doing paperwork. Sateria stepped into her office and said nothing.
Charlotte looked up. “You didn’t insult him or anything, did you?”
Unsure if she did or not, Sateria replied, “Um, I’m not sure. He wants to talk to you.”
Charlotte rolled her eyes. “Get back to your other customers. If you have insulted him, you will no longer be with us after I talk to him, is that understood?”
Sateria nodded. “Yes.”
Charlotte got up from her chair. Sateria watched her boss make her way to Johnny’s table. She was scared. She didn’t want to look for another job. She liked the one she had. She thought about her conversation with her important customer and wondered if she did offend him at all.
By this time he and his two friends were standing, waiting on Charlotte. She witnessed Johnny whisper something in Charlotte’s ear and Charlotte smiling. Perhaps her job was safe. Johnny and his entourage left the restaurant and Charlotte returned to her office to find a very despondent Sateria waiting.
“You are fine. You get to stay. But I want you to go home. I will pay you for the rest of the day.”
Internally smiling, Sateria responded, “Okay.” And she immediately left work still concerned about her behavior towards the owner of the restaurant. Sateria boarded the ‘L’ and quietly went home.
She unlocked the door to her small, yet adequate apartment, dropped her backpack to the floor, and plopped down on the couch. Sateria sat and sighed heavily thinking about her day. She looked around the room at her old furniture, some of which she inherited from her mother, and couldn’t wait until she could afford to buy something new. She had her mother’s favorite chair sitting in the corner of the living room facing the television. The high-backed, black leather chair was worn where her mother used to rest her arms and watch television, or anything thing else. It seemed to Sateria that she did everything in that chair. If she was ever going to buy new furniture, she decided she would simply get the chair reupholstered. She missed her mother dearly.
Not long after she was finished accessing her humble surroundings, her house phone rang. It only rang if someone couldn’t contact her on her cell phone. Sateria got up and answered the phone.
“Girlfriend what happened at work today?” Her best friend Kyra asked.
Sateria pulled her cell phone from her bag to notice she had turned it off. “I almost got fired.”
“Charlotte thought I might have insulted the owner in some way.”
“Well you didn’t, did you?”
“I’m still not sure, but I didn’t get fired.”
“Well, what did you do?”
Sateria told Kyra about the very large tip.
“A thousand dollars!” Kyra exclaimed.
“And you turned it down?”
“Why? He always tips like that if he likes you. Hell, I’ve even gotten a good tip from him before, but not a thousand dollars.”
“How much did he tip you?”
“Twice the bill. Two hundred dollars. So why didn’t you take it?”
“You didn’t see how he was looking at me. I didn’t want him to think I was for sale or something. So I only let him tip me twenty percent.”
“Ugh,” Kyra groaned.
“What? Twenty four dollars is a good tip.”
“Whatever. So what are you doing tomorrow night?”
“Well, it is payday, and for a change both of us get Saturday off. What do you have in mind?”
“I thought we might go out for a drink, maybe pick up some cuties or something.”
Sateria rolled her eyes. “Don’t start that again. I’m not ready do date anyone yet.”
“Aw come on, Sateria,” Kyra clicked her teeth. “It’s been over a year. Brad has moved on, and I think it’s time you did too.”
“Yes you are. You just don’t know it yet.”
It was Sateria’s turn to click her teeth. “Whatever. Where do you wanna go?”
“I thought we might go to Kingsbury Hall.”
“Yeah, it’s been a while since we’ve been. So what do you say? Wanna go?”
Sateria sat on the end of the phone and thought about the last time she was there. She did enjoy herself and the drinks were reasonable. It was close to public transit so she didn’t have to drive. “Sure. What time?”
The women decided on a time, and stayed on the phone and talked about various things.
The following day, at the end of their shift, Charlotte passed out their checks. Sateria was excited about her check this week. She had managed to work a little overtime for a couple days so it would give her some money to put into her savings for her new furniture. She immediately opened her envelope to find an obvious mistake on her check. Expecting to see around five hundred dollars after taxes, she was surprised to see and obvious overpayment. The gross amount of her check was almost sixteen hundred dollars. After taxes it came to just above thirteen hundred.
Sateria stopped on a dime and immediately turned back to her manager who was grinning like the Cheshire Cat.
“Charlotte, can I talk to you in private?”
Knowing why Sateria requested this private meeting, she simply responded, “Sure.”
They went into Charlotte’s office and closed the door.
“What’s the matter?” Charlotte asked.
“There is a mistake on my check.”
Charlotte shook her head. “Nope.”
Sateria held out her pay stub and pointed to the amount. “Yes, there is. I haven’t worked that much overtime.”
Charlotte took the pay stub from Sateria’s hands and examined it. “Ah, I see you must have missed that you got a bonus.”
Sateria was confused. “Bonus? For what? I haven’t done anything other than what I normally do around here. Did we all get bonuses?”
“No. Only you.”
“So what was the bonus for?” Sateria asked.
Charlotte shrugged. “Mr. Gianopoulos told me that you refused his tip.”
“I did. A thousand dollars is an insane amount of money. I just did my job to the best of my ability. I didn’t deserve that much of a tip.”
“So he said. He told me to put the exact amount that you refused in your check. That way, you had to take it.”
“Charlotte, I don’t want this money.”
“Sorry. The boss wanted you to have it, and since you wouldn’t take cash, he asked me to put it in your check.”
“So you can’t do some kind of adjustment and reverse this?”
Charlotte nodded. “I could, but then I would be in trouble. I do what my boss asks me to do, just like you should.”
Sateria rolled her eyes. “Fine.”
“Look at it this way. You can do lots of things with this extra cash. I’m sure it won’t happen again, so just take it, and be happy, okay?”
“So the rest of the staff has gotten bonuses like this before?”
“Of course they have. Yours just happens to be the largest one to date.”
“So there is nothing I can do?”
“Actually, you can take the money and enjoy yourself. Now get outta here. Your shift ended twenty minutes ago. I’ll see you Sunday. Enjoy your day off.”
Sateria gazed at her boss. “Do me a favor. Don’t sit him at my station anymore. Then I won’t have to worry about it.”“I will keep it in mind, but Mr. Gianopoulos sits where he wants.”