Cornered for Dinner
Carmelita paced in front of the map of Paris on the wall, scrutinizing the colored tacks ringed with matching string. Her eyes traced every city street, running through the different buildings in her mind and the sites that each of the tacks indicated. At the top of the map were mugshots of two hardened criminals: a bulldog with a large underbite and scarred jowels, and shifty-eyed crocodile, his face a never-ending smile of amusement as he glanced off to the side. Then two more photos of unknown associates, with generic silhouettes.
Picking up an open folder on the desk, Carmelita thumbed through the pages. Numerous reports on the jewel thieves listed the priceless gems and cut stones that they had swiped from major cities around the world. And they were already very active in Paris. Ten places in two weeks, including museums, art galleries, and jewel shops, all culminating in a net worth beyond any amount Carmelita would ever see in her life.
As she reached the last page, she unfolded the note stuffed into the folds. Catch us if you can. Left at the latest crime scene as a direct insult to her and everyone at Interpol. Infuriated, she crushed the note and shoved it back into the folder. She pulled out the addresses of the different spots the gang had robbed and ran a hand through her long blue hair.
“There has to be something here,” she said, checking the addresses against the map. Some pattern she was missing, some clue. These heists couldn’t all be random. Thieves were habitual by nature in her experience, and tended to stick to particular styles and locations.
Well, most thieves, she thought. After all, there was one slippery crook in particular that always managed to appear in the most unexpected places, almost as if he was following her. She smirked as Sly’s face materialized in her mind. Even he stuck to a pattern, albeit an unusual one of taking on other criminals. And their last rendezvous had followed its usual path: her trying to gun him down and him escaping by the skin of his teeth with his gang.
She shook her head as she heard a light tap, tap behind her. “Come in,” she said, still reading through the file. When no one answered, she looked up at the door. It didn’t move and no one called to her from outside. Another tap, tap followed and her ears swiveled to the source. The window.
Laying the folder on the desk, she opened the blinds and was shocked to find four people strung up and tied together, dangling from a rope looped around a Parisian flagpole that jutted out from the rooftop. But not just any four people. It was the notorious jewel thieves she had been searching for. The bulldog facing the city was bound and gagged, yet there was no mistaking those scars. And the crocodile seemed less than pleased at the moment, trying to chomp through his bonds.
Tucked between the ropes was a letter addressed to her. Carmelita snatched up the letter and opened it.
Dear Inspector Fox,
I hope you have been doing well these past few months. I’m sorry I haven’t been in touch, as we’ve been doing some traveling. But I’d love to catch up with you, perhaps over dinner? Say, eight o’clock tonight at the Restaurant Pierre? Hopefully this little gift frees up your evening.
Your “Ring-Tail” Thief
She flipped the letter over, found nothing on the back, and re-read it. Speak of the devil, she thought, grinning to herself. Carmelita pushed her intercom, requesting a squad of officers to assist her. As she turned her attention to the jewel thieves and set about reeling them in, she spotted a small figure on the rooftops of the stores below. A small, gray figured, donned in a familiar blue cap and sweater.
He tipped crooked cane to his hat and to her, ran to the edge of the rooftop, and leapt off. Moments later, she heard an engine gun to full speed in the distance. See you tonight, Ring-Tail.
* * *
Casually touching her ear and pretending to brush a lock of hair behind it, Carmelita pressed on the two-way radio hidden in her ear. “Any sign of the target?” she asked quietly.
“Squad A, in position at the north entrance. No sign of the target yet,” one voice reported, then the others chimed in.
“Squad B, on the south side. Nothing over here.”
“Squad C, we have the west road covered. No sign yet.”
“Squad D, we finished setting up on the roof of the restaurant. Haven’t seen the target yet. Activating security camera feed.”
Carmelita and a full contingent of the finest Interpol had to offer had arrived at the restaurant hours earlier. With the staff’s help, they had surreptitiously jacked into the feed from the restaurant’s security cameras and planted additional tiny cameras around the dining area to have a complete 360 degree view of the surroundings. On top of that, they had created a tight perimeter around the restaurant, armed with the latest in shockgun technology, guaranteed to drop anyone with one shot. They had also mapped out any potential paths Sly might use to escape once the trap was sprung and laced them with booby traps: knockout gas, stun mines, capture nets, the works.
For extra insurance, she had her trusty Shock Pistol strapped to her leg. Her fashionable purple dress had a slit cut up the thigh, allowing easy access to the pistol should she need it, and she positioned her legs within easy reach of the holster.
Simply put, once Sly stepped into the restaurant, the only way he was leaving was in the back of a squad car.
“Target approaching by sidewalk,” Squad A reported. “Repeat, target is in sight.”
Punctual as always, she thought, noting it was eight on the dot. “Weapons cold,” Carmelita said as Sly entered the restaurant in a black tuxedo and spoke to the maître d’. “Nobody move yet. Remember, the code word is ‘sentence’.” The maître d’ guided Sly to her table, where he laid two menus down.
Carmelita felt pretty good about their chances. Now the rest was up to her. Sly would be on edge at the outset, expecting an ambush, so it was up to her to put his mind at ease, lull him into a false sense of security.
A waiter in a vest and dress shirt replaced the maître d’ and welcomed them. “May I start you off with an appetizer or something to drink?” he asked.
Sly opened his arm to Carmelita, allowing her to choose. “I think a Chardonnay for the time being,” she said.
“Make that a bottle,” Sly said, grinning at her. “Dinner’s on me. My treat.”
Ever the gentleman. But since he was offering… ”And I’ll have the champignons farcis.”
“Excellent choice,” the waiter said. “And for you, sir?”
“I’ll have the grouper meuniere.”
“I’ll have your drinks momentarily,” he said and gathering up the menus, swept off to the kitchen.
“You look very beautiful this evening, Inspector,” he said, noting the effort she had put into curling her hair and putting on her best make-up.
“You clean up well yourself, Ring-Tail,” she said. It was the truth. He had combed his hair and his suit and jacket matched his suave charm.
“I’m happy you were able to make it,” Sly said.
“Well, I suppose I should thank you for plucking that thorn out of our side today,” she said. “Gives me time for other pursuits.”
“Aw,” he propped his cheek on his fist and smiled lovingly at her, “so you do think of me.”
“Quite often,” she said and added, “Behind bars.” Then she narrowed her eyes at him. “How did you know where to find that gang anyway? Interpol has had trouble tracking them and we’ve been on it for months.”
He shrugged. “A good hunch,” he said and she rolled her eyes. “Let’s not spoil this night with work. It always comes between us.” He reached across the table, covering her hand with his as the waiter returned with two glasses and a bottle. He poured each of their glasses and they sipped their wine.
“I think you mean the law does,” she said. She briefly considered trying to get Sly drunk for an extra edge, but figured he wouldn’t fall for something so simple.
“Like I said, ‘work’,” he said, giving her hand a gentle squeeze.
“I’ve made this offer before and it still stands: you could excel at being an officer.”
His hand flew to his heart and his nose into the air in mock anguish. “You insult me, good woman. I have my dignity and pride.”
She snorted and choked down a chuckle. “I’m serious. You have the talent for tracking down thieves. Why use it for illegal ventures?”
“It’s a family tradition,” he said, swirling the drink in his glass around. “Besides, where’s the fun if not in testing one’s skills against the best?”
“A spy then,” she said. “Same job, different side of the law.”
“That depends on which country you’re asking,” he said, countering her reasoning and she had to concede a little there. He gulped some more wine down and seemed to bounce the idea around. “It’s not the first time I’ve been asked that. Truth be told, I wouldn’t mind it.”
“Then why not go for it?”
“Simple. I would be stealing information, secrets from governments, full of normal people, a lot of times innocent people. There’s no honor or fun in robbing normal people.”
“Ah, the Cooper Code,” she said, recalling that line from his extensive police record. “Only rob from criminals. Except when you break into police stations to steal files.”
He smirked at the memory. "To be fair, I did return it once I was done. And it was mostly about me anyway.”
“And the Fiendish Five,” she said. “Doesn’t mean they would get to read it either.”
“Well, next time, I’ll just take the parts pertaining to me, deal?”
“And have another merry rooftop chase?” she asked.
“Why not? The open Parisian air is fresh and intoxicating late at night. And the sight is quite enticing and lovely.” His suggestive eyes stared into hers and she shook her head, unwilling to back down at his flirtations.
“You’ve already led me on enough chases to travel the world,” she said. “Although, I wouldn’t call it all bad.”
“Careful, Inspector. It sounds like you might be starting to enjoy chasing common thieves around.”
She finished her drink, watching the dregs circle at the base of the glass. “You’re a lot of things, Cooper. But a ‘common thief’ isn’t one of them.” His face brightened at that and she stared into her glass. It was true. For all the other rough-hewn, insufferable criminals out there, Sly stood out from the crowd with his code of honor, his debonair charm, and heart of gold. Even now, he cleaned up better than most others did, with his hair slicked back, his coat pressed and ironed, and a smile that would be sure to make most girls melt. Coupled with his roguish good looks, he was the very definition of tall, dark, and handsome. All of it certainly did a number on her and took a strong willpower to resist.
On top of all that, he had a gentle, caring side for those select few closest to him, which she been surprised to find herself a part of. What had started off as simple banter during the pursuit had grown at some point along the way, and, if she was honest with herself, she felt lucky enough to be in that inner circle after all the harrowing escapades they had embarked on. Unlike the other men whose heads had turned to stare at her figure in the dress when she entered the restaurant, Sly hadn’t once ogled her in such a manner. Instead, he had taken all of her in, from the fluffed up hair and her painstakingly applied make-up to the black heels that killed her feet. All of her, not just parts, and he appreciated the entire package.
“Well, well, I didn’t know you cared,” he said, holding her hand. “Does this mean there’s a chance we could move onto being more than inspector and felon?”
Carmelita wouldn’t admit it now, especially not with Interpol listening in, but had come to care for the incorrigible raccoon greatly. A large part of her wanted to say, “Yes.” She almost felt sorry that this particular case would conclude tonight. Her time spent chasing the Cooper Gang had been, if nothing else, an interesting adventure throughout the years. And unlike some of her other quarries, Sly was a good-hearted soul on the inside, whatever his issues with the law were.
She cleared her throat. “Pretty hard to do that,” she said. “I think it would strain a relationship if I had to wake up and arrest you each morning.”
“Oh, it wouldn’t be the first time a Cooper had dated a law-abiding citizen,” he said. “The law and crime can go hand in hand. Like a spy. Or my parents. My dad was the thief. You think my mother was the same?”
He seemed more at ease, more focused on her. As much as she hated to do this now, it was time. Any longer delay would look suspicious on her part. “I might be persuaded,” she said, “if you served your sentence for your crimes.”
“Moving in,” Squad A murmured in her ear and the rest of the squads closed their positions, tightening the net.
“I’m afraid I would be dead by then,” Sly said.
“Not necessarily,” she said, polishing off her glass. “You have helped us on multiple occasions. I could put in a good word for you and you could be out in five to ten, possibly with the chance for parole.”
“And hardly see you? How would we be able to share moments like this?”
“I would come down and take shifts to make sure you didn’t escape.”
“Why would I bother with escape if it meant more time with you? Tell you what, what if I said I would come in if you took every shift?”
“Tempting,” she said as the squads moved into closer position, readying their weapons.
He took her hands in his, stroking the webbing between her fingers with his thumb. “But I wouldn’t ask you to do that,” he said honestly, his eyes betraying a glimmer of sadness. “You’re a field agent, true to your nature, and that’s one of many things that I love that about you. You wouldn’t be yourself stuck behind a desk. Or without your pistol strapped to your leg.”
Her mouth fell open. “What?”
“Or without back-up from the squads moving into position,” he said, shifting his eyes to the windows and back to her. “I had hoped we would at least get to the main course, but perhaps another time.” He kissed the top of her hands. “Thank you for the wonderful evening.”
“How did you know?” she asked under her breath, but realized who she was talking to. Right. Of course Cooper would know.
“This isn’t the first time I’ve walked into a trap,” he said. “But I would gladly do so over and over to see you.” He leaned in close and Carmelita’s eyes widened, unsure what he was getting at. “I’m afraid I’m going to have to disappoint Interpol’s finest again. Because if there ever comes a time where I’ll let someone catch me, that someone would be you.”
There was no trace of a lie on his face. He was absolutely sincere. Carmelita had on some level expected as much, but hearing it aloud and how much he cared was still a surprise. On the edge of hearing, she heard the squads communicating with each other, preparing to douse the lights, confuse Cooper, and barge in to arrest him. Standard tactics.
Dousing the lights. Pitch-black, total darkness. Cooper’s element. A voice in her mind rallied her that she couldn’t let the squads do that. As Carmelita touched her ear and opened her mouth to order them to stand down, Sly swept in and planted his lips on hers, stealing a deep, passionate kiss.
Her vision swam and there was a nagging sensation to warn the squads that Sly knew of their trap. Yet even if she wanted to, Sly’s tongue snaked inside her mouth and hers did the same with his. The insatiable urge to continue the kiss was winning out for the moment as the lights went dark and people screamed all around her.
A faint voice that sounded all too familiar said, “Sly! They’re disabled, but you only have thirty seconds. Get out of there!” Between the kiss, she realized it was coming from Sly. Was that Bentley?
Then the sensation of Sly’s lips was gone and Carmelita was thrust back into the moment, listening to glass shattering from the windows, doors banging open, and commanding shouts over the cacophony of yells and scuffling shoes.
“West side!” one of the squads shouted in her earpiece. “Figure leaving the west side.
“How did they avoid the stun mines?” a second member yelled in the background.
“Can you confirm it’s Cooper?” another asked.
“Unable to confirm, but it may be Cooper. Target is running fast down the street with a net around his ankles. Permission to engage?”
“Permission granted,” Carmelita said, somewhat in a daze and standing up. By now, phones and flashlights had come out and the staff was attempting to calm the guests.
In the corner of her eyes, Carmelita spotted a shadowy figure slinking out of a window on the east side. He paused a moment, looking back at her, then hopped for the next building, climbing to the rooftop.
But then, who did—? “Squad, report. Did you capture the target? Was it Cooper?”
“Negative, Inspector. Looks like it’s some kid. Says somebody paid him to dress like Cooper. Hey! You get back here!” There were shouts on the other end as the squad chased and seemed to lose sight of whoever had fooled them.
The lights switched back on and the crowd settled down, picking up their knocked-over chairs and belongings. The staff finally had a handle on the situation and were apologizing profusely to everyone for the intrusion during their meals.
On her table, Carmelita found a handful of money, exactly enough for both their dinners and drinks, along with a small blue, raccoon-shaped mark. Sly’s calling card, always left behind at every one of his exploits and thefts.
Carmelita briefly considered informing the squads about Cooper’s escape through the east window. But his words rung in her ears. If there ever comes a time where I’ll let someone catch me, that someone would be you. She looked up at the window, staring at the building across and the night sky beyond. They would never catch him. Cooper was too slick to be caught in a simple chase. So there was no point.
Besides, she thought, picking up the calling card and smiling to herself as she relived the kiss, that Ring-Tail did earn himself a one-day head-start for a nice evening.
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