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I stared at Jonas, not quite believing what he’d just said.
“What do you think?” he asked, a half-smile crossing his face.
“No way.” I shook my head a little, just to make it clearer. I didn’t want to have anything to do with this.
“Bro, it’s just a one-time thing,” he said and tapped my elbow. “I’ll do all the falling. You just gotta film it. Couple hundred each, guaranteed.”
Something coiled in my guts, and I pulled back. I wasn’t the nicest guy around, sure, but this seemed worse. A couple hundred bucks, though; that would be enough to get us through the next few weeks.
The scraping of the wheels against the concrete drew my attention. I glanced at the skaters sliding around the pit and had an urge to just go back to it and leave this conversation behind. I knew well enough that just turning away wouldn’t wash down the bitter taste it left in my mouth, though.
“What do you say?” Jonas pressed. His hair was sandy blond, curly; with those dimples and high cheekbones, he looked like some sort of angel, but not a very good one.
I was the last person who should judge. Good, bad, somewhere in the middle. It didn’t matter.
“I’ll think about it.” My voice was low and cautious like he’d proposed a heist and not just a cheap scam. Did it matter which it was when it was a crime either way?
“That’s all I needed to hear.” Jonas grinned and pushed his way back to the pit. He was incredibly skilled with this skateboard, and I had no doubt in my mind he could fake a mighty good fall. In fact, as if he’d read my thoughts, he dropped his skateboard down, stepped on it, and slid down the side of the pit, only to fall like a newbie two seconds later.
He moaned and cried to nobody’s reaction — everyone had fallen quite a few times here — and looked at me with an evil grin. He was cute but getting less cute with each passing second.
I sighed and followed him, slid down the side of the pit, circled around him, and slowed down. I could feel his eyes on me all along, but I didn’t look back. I had to think first, then look at him and give him my answer.
But Jonas behaved as if we were already practicing the act.
This wouldn’t be the first time we scammed someone, but we usually scammed bad people. There was no way of knowing who was good and who was bad when they were in their cars, driving at full speed. Worse yet, we probably wouldn’t have any luck with bad people; they’d just run away.
I put my Airpods in and blasted some music to drown all other sounds, and skated for a solid hour until my muscles ached. Sweaty, hair damp, and catching my breath, I headed toward the bench just next to the pit so I could sit and watch other guys have fun. A few of them were shirtless by now, as the midday sun gave no quarter.
I watched them twist and balance and buzz from one side of the pit to the other until Jonas joined me on the bench. I ignored him for a moment, but he pretended like I didn’t.
“I was thinking tomorrow, maybe in the morning. We can do it right here on the street.”
I scoffed. Was he trying to get arrested? “That’s dumb. You want to do it in the late afternoon in a street that goes east to west so that the driver is blinded by the setting sun, and you want to do it as far away from here as you can.”
Jonas nodded quickly. “See, that’s why I need you, Max. You’re the brains of the operation; I’m the looks.”
I met his gaze and held it. Two hundred dollars. It kept buzzing through my head. It would have to be a good car, but not a very good car. We’d need to make sure the target was someone who would carry extra cash with them, but it shouldn’t be someone very wealthy. They’d be cautious about their money, plus they could just decide to do the right thing and call the police to determine everything. They’d probably have some madly expensive insurance that would cover everything for them, so Jonas would need his broken leg X-rayed. No, that wouldn’t work.
We headed home when the pit emptied, and the guys our age retreated to coffee shops to wait out the heat. We didn’t go to those places very often. It was a simple choice between enjoying a cup of iced coffee or paying the rent to Jonas’ tiny studio. He was more than happy to let me crash on the floor for a while if it meant I could help with the rent. The only thing we hadn’t thought of was that nobody would employ me, and I couldn’t help with the freaking rent.
Unemployable. That was the word, right? I could see it on their faces, in their eyes. Not even kitchens had openings for guys like me. I differed from their usual vanilla types and didn’t care to hide it. My chest tattoo crept up to my neck, and I didn’t lack any on my arms all the way to the backs of my hands. One look at me, and they knew to better stay away from this guy.
I wasn’t nearly as scary as I seemed, though. It was just these middle-aged men running fast-food restaurants that feared me. They’d think I was a thief or a junkie or whatever, and they would thank me not-so-politely and tell me they would be in touch. They never were.
Jonas and I got home and faced the tough decision between opening the windows in the middle of the heatwave in hopes a gust of wind would come out of nowhere and blow the heat out of the apartment or keep them closed and simmer until evening.
We simmered as usual.
Jonas pulled off his shorts and T-shirt and crashed on the couch. It was so hot inside that I couldn’t even bother fantasizing about him. Instead, I undressed and spread on the futon in hopes I would at least nap.
He never asked, never mentioned it, until the afternoon of the next day when he pulled on a pair of black sweatpants and picked up his skateboard. “Let’s go,” he said, and there was no debate. As far as he was concerned, we’d agreed to do this.
I didn’t protest. I was shitty at life already, so I internally blamed him for dragging me into it but followed in silence. This was our only choice, after all. It was oddly easy to follow orders when they didn’t leave room for discussion.
We found a good spot on a two-lane street that led out of the city and toward the suburbs. To my right, the street faced the setting sun. There wasn’t a single cloud, and the plan was unfolding perfectly. Still, my guts twisted, and a voice inside my head told me to stop this before anything bad happened.
Jonas and I skated around the block a few times just so that the potential eyewitnesses would see we were responsible and careful, caused no trouble, minded our own business. Then, on our fourth lap, we saw it. It aligned like planned. There was only one car at the traffic light, waiting for the green light. I hopped off my skateboard and pulled out my phone, filmed Jonas as he skated and jumped.
We lingered on the same street for another minute as the light turned green and the car headed our way. The guy wasn’t driving fast, so if Jonas wasn’t completely stupid with what he had to do, there shouldn’t be any damage on the car or Jonas. All he had to do was fall nicely and pretend he was hurt.
The car was mere feet away from the perfect position when the shade of the tree allowed me to see inside; an old man gripped the wheel with both hands. He drove twenty miles per hour, if that fast, and he kept his eyes glued to the street.
My heart sank, and I rushed forward. “Jonas, no!”
But it was too late. Jonas had already jumped out on the street and bounced off the hood. On any other day, it would have been an amazing performance, but my heart broke for the old man.
The car stopped, and the guy sat inside, panicking, while Jonas tumbled down on the sidewalk and began moaning and crying.
As the old guy opened the door and stepped out, supporting himself with both hands shaking, I tucked my phone away. “Oh, my word,” he moaned. “I didn’t see you… I didn’t… I’m so sorry…” The guy looked at me. “Is he okay, young man?” The guy stumbled around the car and found Jonas holding his leg and crying, cursing, begging for help all the while I stood frozen in my spot.
“Can you call the ambulance?” Jonas moaned. “I think… Jesus, fuck… I think my leg is broken.”
The old guy cried out in fear, and I finally found my voice. “Leg?” I bent down and pulled his sweatpants up to reveal his perfectly healthy leg. “I don’t think it’s broken, dude. You’re fine.”
Jonas looked at me like he was trying to cut me down and shook his head as if to ask what’s up. But I’d already ruined it. So, I pulled him up, and after one last-ditch effort at a limp, Jonas straightened.
I looked at the old guy. “We’re really sorry, sir. We didn’t see you there.”
The man paused, a little clearer. He’d been sure it was his mistake, but now the thought crept into his head, and I could see its reflection in his eyes. “Are you alright, young man?” he asked Jonas.
Jonas moaned. “Yeah, I think so. Uh… It hurts, but… Yeah, nothing’s broken.”
I took over again. “We hope you can forgive us.” I drew his attention to me as I walked to the front of the car. “Lucky we didn’t damage anything.”
“But he’s alright?” the man asked.
I wanted to curse at Jonas for dragging me into this. The guy was only concerned about Jonas and not at all about himself. Sure, we could have conned some money out of him, but it wasn’t fucking fair. “He’s just a crybaby, sir. He’ll be fine. Why don’t we just pretend this never happened?” I gave him the kindest smile I could and saved both our asses from an eternity in hell.
The old man wanted to give us his number if we needed anything and didn’t leave until we assured him twice more that Jonas was alright. And then, as he started the engine and went on his way, Jonas turned to me. “What the actual hell, Max?”
I shrugged. “Wasn’t a good target.” I grabbed my skateboard and carried it as I walked away.
Jonas caught up quickly. “No, he was the perfect target. You were supposed to tell him we caught him on film, man.”
“I know. It didn’t feel right,” I said and kept my mouth shut all the way back to his studio. I risked losing the last roof over my head now, but screw it. At least we didn’t rip off a helpless old man. Jonas rushed to walk ahead of me, and I could already picture him slamming the door in my face once we were there.
To my surprise, he didn’t. We entered the studio in silence, and Jonas only sighed with disappointment before he locked it. He ignored me when he heated the leftovers, and he ignored me when he sat down and pulled out his phone. The first time he looked at me was when someone banged against the door and startled us both.
“Jonas, I know you’re in there,” said the rumbling thunder of a voice.
Jonas’ eyes widened, face pale, as he shook his head for me to stay quiet.
“Jonas! I just saw you enter the building. You can’t pretend you’re out. I’ll break this door down if I have to, but I’ll find you in there.”
We sat in silence, but the effort it took almost seemed like we were trying to still our heartbeats.
After a minute of silence and occasional “JONAS!”, the man gave up. “You have one week, Jonas. One week, or I’ll bring a locksmith and get you the hell out of my apartment.”
As the landlord’s footsteps faded away, I closed my eyes. I didn’t need Jonas to say it out loud, but he said it anyway: “Tomorrow, we’re doing it again, and you better not screw up.”
Yeah… I figured that already.
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