Treasure Me

By: Christine Nolfi

Chapter 1





“Where are you? Give me back my wallet!”

From somewhere inside Birdie Kaminsky’s apartment, the man in blue pinstripe stormed through the rooms like a long distance runner stoked on Red Bull. Flinching at the fury in his voice, she dangled from the window ledge and stared with wide-eyed fear at the pavement three stories below.

The man was seventy years old if he was a day. He probably worked out, which explained how he’d pursued her up three flights of stairs and made it into her apartment before she locked the front door.

Old men and their treadmills. It was something she should’ve considered before she’d picked his pocket on her way home from a light day of breaking and entering.

Birdie tried to ignore the sickening whoosh of fear zigzagging through her body. Her teeth were chattering, so she clamped her mouth shut. Three stories above terra firma made a straight drop a stupid idea. Like any good thief she was agile. But the last time she’d checked she hadn’t sprouted wings. If she let go of the windowsill and took the plunge, she’d break her legs.

“Where are you hiding? You aren’t taking my money, do you hear me?”

Something crashed to the floor inside her apartment, the sound too close for comfort. Had it come from the hallway that led from the closet-sized living room to the pea-sized bedroom? With any luck, Marathon Man would stop in the bathroom to check if she was hiding behind the shower curtain.

She gasped as her hold on the windowsill loosened. “Oh, shit!”

Pressing her long legs forward, she flattened against the building’s brick façade. To her left, the drainpipe snaked down to the street. Reach for it and risk falling? Today was her thirty-first birthday and therefore a lucky day. On the other hand, her landlord had threatened to evict her this morning if she didn’t make good on her rent and a demonic old geezer was pounding on the bedroom door she’d had the sense to lock before she’d stupidly made her escape.

The window on the other side of the drainpipe slid open with a bang! Fear scuttled her heart. Mr. Chen stuck his head out and relief swamped her.

“Birdie! What happened?”

“Uh…”

Another wave of fists pounding and Mr. Chen’s mouth formed an O. “Is it the police? Did they threaten you? You didn’t squeal on the Poker Kings, did you?”

Mr. Chen held Poker Kings, a Tuesday night game, in his apartment. He did a great job of seeding his hand with Aces and he was always worried the cops would find out. Birdie figured he should worry about the other tenants learning he was fleecing them. The overworked Lexington Police Department had bigger fish to fry.

She smiled at him gamely. “Um, Mr. Chen, could you help me out? I’m gonna fall if you don’t.”

“Oh. Right.”

To her surprise, he jimmied a brick from the wall. Then another. When he’d finished, he grabbed her left foot and steered it toward the handy inverse steps he’d created. Stretching to the drainpipe, she grabbed hold then started toward his window. For all she knew, he hid his ill-gotten poker winnings behind the bricks.

No matter—his thieving heart was her salvation. She shimmied toward him with her pulse rattling inside her skull.

When she reached his window he helped her through and into the kitchen.

The fragrant scents of ginger and garlic mingled in the air. A wok sat on the counter. Evidently Mr. Chen had been preparing an early dinner while she’d been chased upstairs by the man whose pocket she’d picked.

Ignoring the rumbling in her stomach, she darted through the apartment. In the living room she found Mrs. Chen seated in the shiny new wheelchair Birdie had snagged from an assisted living facility last month. It hadn’t seemed fair for Mrs. Chen to spend hours on the phone, arguing with bureaucrats in her broken English. All she’d needed was a new set of wheels. Birdie was familiar with the pricey new facility—she’d eaten a free lunch in the cafeteria on more than one occasion. So she’d dolled up in a tight-fitting nurse’s uniform and set out to snatch a wheelchair.

She’d marched right into the lobby, cornered a hunky security guard lounging by the front desk, and announced she needed to assist a woman who was having trouble getting out of her car. All too eager to help, the security guard was still checking out her ass when she rolled the wheelchair out to the parking lot.

Dismissing the memory, she paused before the wheelchair. “Good afternoon, Mrs. Chen.”

“Birdie, hello. You stay for dinner?”

“Naw. I have to leave the city.”

“For good?”

“My time in Lexington is up.”

“You a crazy white girl, but we miss you.” Mrs. Chen thrust out her lower lip. “Wish you stay longer, steal a car for Yihung. His Buick is a beater.”

“I’ll grab him a Mercedes the next time I’m in Kentucky.” Regret sifted through her and her fingers were stinging, too. Hell, her thumbs were bleeding—she nearly had lost her purchase on the windowsill and plummeted to the ground. “You take care of yourself, okay?”

Mrs. Chen glanced at the ceiling, where pounding footsteps sounded. “You got money?” When Birdie started rifling through the pockets of her army surplus coat, the woman reached for the purse she’d left on the couch. She handed over a wad of bills. “Not much. You take.”