About fifteen minutes later, Dean and his boys were the last to arrive. A distressed Sasha brought them waters and scurried to the back of the house.
“How da police handle it?” Talia yelled from across the restaurant.
Dean shrugged and sipped his water. “When Annice told me there was a stranger’s head on the door, I expected a whole person dead on the doorstep. Who threw up?”
Eyes flew over to Khailani, but she didn’t confess. Dean smirked. She averted her gaze.
“Felix here owned up to it, so none of you have to worry about making a statement. They’ll supposedly call us in a few hours.
“I hope you don’t have any outstanding criminal charges, fearless leader. I told them I was going to pick up a few canvases and other art supplies. That’s when I saw the head. They might give you a call.” He finished his water and set the glass down on the bar table. “Oh, and they saw the skull spray paint. We’ll see if they think it’s connected. Should I mention the masked weirdo?”
Walking up to him, Annice said, “That should be fine. We probably weren’t the only ones there. I’m sure someone else might’ve reported it. But thank you for handling that, Dean. I assume they treated you nicely?”
“Almost handed us the donuts they just picked up. Told them I was going to grab grub with friends but kinda lost my appetite,” he beamed.
Dean continued, “That explains why we have to meet here now, but why are we meeting at all? Isn’t the operation happening in like seven hours?”
“That’s what I wanted to discuss. Sasha…” Annice gestured toward the waitress who had been collecting the empty cups.
Sasha placed down the tray and cleared her throat. “I f-f-f-found a dead rabbit ou-outside the dumpster when I arrived for work.”
“Okay…Given the rabbit situation, that sounds too much like a coincidence, but…maybe a cat got to it?” Dean asked warily.
“It was missing a-a-a head, but it was more of a…more of a butcher’s cut. Nice and clean.” She showed the cellphone pic to Dean.
“You don’t think it’s this guy’s head on your door?” Felix asked, hoping to lighten the mood.
Hopeful, Khailani wondered if that was the case. Wererabbits were monsters…right? Maybe the man was caught mid transformation or part of his body turned back into a rabbit while the other part stayed human? …No. That didn’t make much sense.
“Not only that, but…Talia,” Annice continued.
“A whole fleet of shills wearin’ white rabbit masks breached the warehouse. They killed three of our girls.” She held up her bandaged arm. The bandages covered little splotches of yellow paint. “I got slashed. We killed a few of the bastards, but a couple made it out alive.”
Unfolding her arms, Annice said, “Considering what happened this morning and the notes Khailani has been receiving these past days, I can’t say I’m confident in going through with the plan tomorrow.”
Only the clanking of glasses and nervous shuffling filled the restaurant.
Annice continued. “The goods are high quality. We aren’t giving up our mark forever. For tomorrow, they get a pass. We’ll have to redo some steps, but we have most of the groundwork established already. We’ll find a new date that’ll work for everyone. I’ll send a little something to hold you over until we know when that date is. It’s not the big bucks I promised you, but I rather have you all alive than dying by these sons of bitches.”
She paused to get a feel for the crowd. The twenty or so women exchanged gazes, but none seemed eager to say anything.
The KVG leader said, “The police are sniffing around. Dean has friends in the force. Their information will keep us updated. I forbid anyone from doing any independent investigating. We aren’t a gang. We don’t do the revenge sagas. We lift drugs, give it to the police, and profit over the leftovers. Ya’ll ain’t murderers. You’re mothers, the breadwinners, heroes in your community, or the faces of resistance in this cruel world. We can’t risk losing you too.
“Me, Talia, Dean, and Khailani? We have blood on our hands. We’ve done the time. We got the dirt and grime smeared on our records so you don’t have to. Let us handle it. For now, be vigilant. Stay with each other or stay away from each other. I don’t care. If you see anyone with a mask or with a rabbit or find a message on your door, let me know immediately. I don’t care if you think you’re paranoid. You’re not.
“We waited until the final hour to take these guys seriously. In my negligence, we’ve lost three of our own and have a stranger’s head nailed to the base of operations. I don’t know if whoever did that is friend or foe. It’s safe to say they are out of their damn mind, and I don’t want that crazy bitch to even think you’re an enemy.
“Am I clear?”
“Yes ma’am,” said the room.
“Good. Now help Sasha clean up after your asses and leave her a dollar or somethin’ for allowing us to meet here.”
Khailani saw Annice hand Sasha fifty dollars and patted her on the back. Annice waited for the waitress to drive away and approached Khailani and her own vehicle.
“That was a moving speech,” Khailani said.
“Thanks. It should buy us time.”
She tilted her head. “Time for what?” Khailani asked suspiciously.
“To raid the vault.”
Now she was nervous. “How? I thought we were cancelling it.”
“One postponing. Two, with a small crew. You . Me. Talia and Dean.”
“Just the four of us?”
Annice nodded. “It used to be just me and Dean.”
“Yeah, robbing street corners.”
“We’ll be fine. Your sniping skills are impeccable. Besides, if the traitor is among the other girls, they wouldn’t know the plan. If it’s either Dean or Talia.” She hesitated and turned away from Annice. Gritting her teeth, she said, “If it’s one of them, we can kill the traitor and say it’s an accident.
“Best if the girls don’t have to witness it. They still mean something to society,” Annice smiled faintly.
Khailani grabbed and squeezed her hand. “You mean something to Ritsa and your three girls.” Annice covered her hand.
“You’re right.” She stared into Khailani’s eyes. “You can say no. I know we established earlier that you would like to step down from the heist, but I do ask for you to join us tomorrow.” Annice smiled softly. “We can use your eagle eyes.”
Khailani covered her face. The number of players had been significantly reduced. Any three of them could be the rat. Two more likely than the other one. There was a small possibility it was even any of them. Annice hadn’t the chance to contact Dean or Talia, so they were unaware that they were drafted into the threadbare raid squad.
“I’ll do it,” Khailani said. “I don’t know what you’ll encounter tomorrow. I do know I owe you for all that you’ve done.”
“Great,” Annice smiled, entering the car. “Don’t tell the others yet. I have to refine the details. Once I know everything, I’ll tell you. For now, rest easy and hope we don’t run into any more rabbits tonight.”
© 2021: Operation: UGAWTS || The Cat in Rabbit's Fur || Short Story ||