Imalie probably should have hidden the money better. As a matter of course, no matter how well concealed, money could always be hidden better. Whoever had invented it, was a genius for making it so easy to carry, and also an idiot. No matter what else was around, Imalie knew that a thief would take coins first. They were easy to pocket, easy to run with, so easy to trade in for something more personally valuable, and nearly impossible to recover once taken.
Imalie knew. She’d taken enough of it.
But she’d lived behind serious locks for a long time, and she supposed somewhere in the back of her mind, she’d believed that anyone who cracked their way inside her four walls would have earned the right to the purse.
She stopped believing it the moment she slipped through her back window and found him standing beside the toppled table.
Imalie blinked at him. She glanced at the front door, still perfectly seated in its frame, but she didn’t really have to. She’d circled the block before she came in, assured herself that everything was in place twice before she allowed herself to trip the window latch and arrive home.
Slowly, she smiled. Rocking back, she looked over one shoulder, then the other. The table was resting on its lip. The shelves were pulled straight down off the wall. Her books, her papers, every small thing in the room was scattered over the floor. “You made a mess,” she said.
“Yeah,” Doru said. He nodded, without really looking at her, like he was passing her on the street with one too many thoughts between his ears. “Thought you’d never know it was me, if I pulled all the rookie mistakes.”
“I’m sure that sounded smart at least one of the times you thought it,” Imalie said. She picked up a book, lying face down with its spine cracked and pages twisted. Carefully, she smoothed it shut. “Would it be rude to ask why you’re robbing me? Cause I don’t want to be rude. This is already a little awkward.”
“I knew where you lived,” he said.
“I didn’t know that,” she said.
“I knew you had what I needed.”
“Knew you wouldn’t tell anyone in a uniform.”
Imalie nodded, quick. “I’m sure that sounded good at least one of the times you thought it.”
“So, when are you planning on running? And am I supposed to chase you? I don’t know the manners here.”
Doru pointed down at the bag of coins, seated neatly on the floor in front of his toes. “That’s a lot of money, Mal.”
Imalie nodded, kicked her way a little farther into the room. “I got a job.”
“I guess it went well…” he said, letting out a shallow breath, impressed.
“Not yet,” Imalie said. She shrugged.
“Not yet?” Doru looked at her sharply. His eyes had gone wide. His eyebrows had jumped almost to his hairline. He leaned toward her, blinked and stared, and pointed to the bag again. “But you… this is payment.”
“They gave me half up front,” she said.
“This is half?” he demanded.
“Pretty sure,” she said. “Adden counted it in front of me.”
“Adden?” Doru repeated, too loud. He leaned a little more, caught her eye. “What are you in?”
Very carefully, Imalie set her lips together. It wasn’t a tight shut, just deliberate, like turning a deadbolt, and she watched him pull back as he saw it slide home. He took a breath, knowing he’d asked a question she would never answer.
“It’s big,” he said, and managed to make it sound like both a statement and a question packed into two slim syllables.
Imalie looked down. She took a breath of her own, and nodded without looking at him. “It’s big,” she agreed.
Doru glanced around the room. “Uh… this is bad timing for you.”
Imalie smiled at him, tried not to at first, then grinned wide. “Nah,” she said. She waved it away with a wide gesture. “It’s fine.”
“No,” Doru said. “You’re in the middle of–”
“Nah,” Imalie said. “I have time. I’m doing it tomorrow. I’ve got time to chase you all the way across town for this.”
“Tomorrow?” Doru paused again. He hesitated. “Shouldn’t– This is big. Shouldn’t you be doing it today?”
“Tomorrow,” Imalie said. She nodded to him, then slower to herself. “Tomorrow’s better. See, it’s my birthday. And luck’s always kinder to a girl on her birthday. Or at least the city guard is.” She gave him another slow smile.
He held silent for a moment. Looking her in the eye, he watched her, maybe waiting for her to laugh, maybe trying to decide if he believed her. “Sure,” he said.
Imalie nodded, smiled a little brighter. “Hey. How about I pretend I didn’t catch you, Doru? How about you pretend you just showed up because you saw someone break in? You make sure that I’m all right, then leave with nothing in your pockets…” She opened her hands, questioningly.
“Yeah,” Doru said. “All right. I don’t want to be in Adden’s way.”
Imalie nodded and he turned for the door. He picked his feet up, careful not to step on anything, and swung the door open. Then he paused.
“You’re being nice about this,” he said. He kept his back to her, just turned his head to catch the look on her face. “Why are you being nice about this.”
She shook her head at him. “It’s my birthday.”
Doru nodded. Then he stopped, and turned a little further, eyes narrowing. “I thought that was tomorrow.”
She shrugged. “It’s some time this season.”