~ Lord Byron, Don Juan, Canto XI
Tonight, I'm going to steal half a million dollars.
Well, let me qualify that. I won't take possession of the money tonight - but tonight is when the magic happens. It's when I seal the deal. And steal isn't really the right word for it. The man standing beside me, the one who's trying to impress me with every fiber of his scummy little being, is going to give it to me. He's going to insist I take it from him.
He's going to thank me for the privilege of taking his money.
And then I'm going to walk away.
My crew will take a cut from the proceeds - split four ways - and the rest goes to the person who actually deserves it - this scumbag's victim. Then we'll get the hell out of Vegas - separately, of course. I've been here for a month anyway. That's long enough, in my book. I get restless. I've always been a wanderer.
You have to be when you do what I do, when you were raised the way I was raised.
I'm a grifter. A con artist.
A hustler. A thief.
It sounds worse than it is.
People think they know what being a grifter means. They think that grifters con little old ladies out of their life savings and take hard-working folks' retirements away from them. They think I'm some kind of gold digger or black widow, marrying rich men for money and then waiting until they die to collect.
People couldn't be more wrong about me.
They don't know my story. Not at all.
I'm not the bad guy here. Or bad girl, rather. The real bad guys - the actual cons - are the bankers, the dirty hedge fund managers, the fat cat CEOs who play with their employees like they're chess pieces. Don't even get me started on the politicians, the leaders of countries, the ones who make decisions that affect good people based on whose lobby has the most money and the greatest influence.
They make what I do look like child's play.
Me? I'm one of the good girls.
I'm like Robin Hood. I take from the assholes, the people who deserve to be cheated - and I redistribute to the people who deserve it, the ones who have been victimized.
I believe in karma - retribution for past misdeeds.
But, sometimes, karma needs an extra nudge in the right direction.
I give it that nudge.
And nudging karma is exactly why I'm standing here now.
Sometimes time itself slows down, comes to a standstill, like someone pushed a giant pause button on the entire universe. It usually happens at the important times: births, deaths, things like that.
And times like now.
I sat in the back room, on a half-rusted metal chair, staring at the concrete floor splotched with who knows how many years' worth of grime, the surface wearing away in irregularly shaped patches. Everything faded into the background - the men in the room talking around me, the noise from the gathering crowd outside, the ones who were bloodthirsty, waiting for a fight.
I'd always been good at blocking shit out, detaching myself from everything around me and just zoning.
It's how I survived my childhood.
That, and I fought. Even when I was a kid. It's in your nature, my mother used to say. You kicked your way out of the womb.
This fight, though...this was different. This was fucking personal.
"Yo, Saint." The voice shook me out of my thoughts. "Saint. Are you listening?"
Trigg squatted down in front of me, his expression dark. He was one of the fighters I'd known when I was on the circuit here in Vegas, before I'd gone back to West Bend. "Where's your fucking head?" he asked.
Trigg thought I was distracted by what had happened with Abel. But that’s not what was on my mind.
I wasn't supposed to fight tonight. Abel was. He'd called me when I was out in Hollywood with Elias and River, and asked a favor. It was an easy favor; it should have been no big deal. He wanted me to come down and be in his corner at his fight. I had been outside the circuit for the past few months and he trusted me. After the stuff that had gone down with me and Coker, the shit that sent me back to West Bend a few months back, he knew I'd be there in a heartbeat.
I was supposed to be in Abel’s position tonight, in his corner, supporting him. Instead, Abel was in the hospital, after being mowed down in a hit and run.
The bullshit part of it was that I knew who had done it. Hell, we all knew who was responsible. We might not know who the driver himself was, but we damn well knew who had hired him. It was Roy Coker, my ex-promoter. Everyone knew what kind of guy he was, the lengths he would go to in order to make sure his fighters won.
Or lost, depending on what bets were being run and what the odds were.
Coker had tried to get me to take a dive before, so I knew firsthand what would happen when you were in his way, when you didn’t do what you were told.
In my case, the outcome hadn’t been great.
Of course, I’d never been good at doing what I was told, either.