Down to the Liar
Author:Mary Elizabeth Summer

Down to the Liar by Mary Elizabeth Summer

The Popular Girl

I dangle from my fingertips, trying to judge in the darkness how far the soles of my Converse are from the wet pavement. The pavement is always wet in Chicago during the ass-end of March. If it’s not snow, it’s rain. If it’s not snow or rain, it’s the bitter tears of California transplants.

“A little help here?” I call out to Dani, who has already leapt effortlessly from the ladderless fire escape to the ground.

“You are perfectly capable of getting down yourself.”

Her English has improved over the six short months of our acquaintance. She still has a dubious relationship with contractions, but she’s come a long way. I’m not sure that’s a good thing, though—gives her too much ammunition to talk back with.

“I am Julep Dupree, grifter, forger, and master of disguise. I am not a damn acrobat.” I shuffle my hands for a better grip. Is it five feet to the ground? Ten? “Besides, I’m allergic.”

“To jumping?”

“To breaking both my legs.”

“I am unfamiliar with that allergy.”

“It’s pretty debilitating, actually.” I swing my foot toward a nearby Dumpster and catch the edge of it with my toe. If only it were a few inches closer. Or the ground were a few feet closer. “You can look it up when we get back.”

Her arms wrap around my legs, warm and sure, and she plucks me off the fire escape as if I were a cat in a tree.

“Thanks.” I step out of her hold and wipe my slimy hands on my jeans.

She shrugs an I’m already thinking about something else shoulder. I know that’s what it means, because she does it a lot. Dani doesn’t talk much, so reading her subtler cues is key if you spend significant amounts of time with her. Sadly for me, she’s learning English a lot faster than I’m learning Dani.

“I can admit when I’m wrong,” I say.

She smirks at me as we walk through the alley toward her skulking black-with-white-racing-stripes Chevelle. The Since when? she isn’t saying is implied in her smile.

“Okay, I’m never wrong.”

“You were wrong about your target. She is not having an affair with that rabbi.”

“I was right that she was lying about where she was going. That’s mostly right. Mostly right overrules partly wrong. If you’re rounding.”

“I do not know what ‘rounding’ is, but I am sure you cannot do it to truth.”

“You can if your relationship with truth is as sketchy as mine is.”

The harsh brightness of security lights guarding the back doors of buildings spills at regular intervals into the alley. Some are on motion sensors, some flicker as if they’re about to die, but all of them bathe us in bleakness as we pass. Dani looks at home in it. Her short-cropped, bone-blond hair and oil-black leather jacket make as chilling a combination as the security lights beating back against the night. But instead of unnerved, I feel safe, both in the alley and with Dani. She may be a nineteen-year-old mob enforcer, but she shares the same weakness for protecting the innocent that I do. And filthy, rat-infested alleys? They’re my preschool playground.

I’m not sure why Dani sticks around. She promised my dad that she would protect me from her boss, but both my dad and her boss are now in prison, so I’d count that as being officially off the hook. She’s still here, though—checks on me at the office when I’m there late, assists me in the less savory spying-type jobs, like tonight, and even acts as chauffeur once in a while. I don’t pay her, because the first and last time I tried to, she nearly took my head off. (Well, she frowned at me and crossed her arms, which for Dani is like throwing a raging hissy fit.) So there’s nothing in it for her as far as I can see, and that tends to make me nervous.

But to be honest, I’m too grateful for her company to protest. Murphy Donovan, my official partner-in-crime, isn’t the best at fieldwork. He gets computers, helps with research and tech stuff. But he’s not my other half the way my previous partner Sam was.

Sam’s the best hacker I’ve ever met and he’s great at the in-person scams. He’s also my best friend—or rather, was my best friend, before he abandoned me for military school.

Dani’s the closest thing to backup I have now. And I’ll be honest, when she’s around, I miss Sam a little less.

Nothing makes me miss Tyler any less.

“What are you going to tell your client about his fiancée’s ‘affair’?”

I slide into the passenger seat of the Chevelle. “I can’t tell him she’s secretly taking classes from the rabbi so she can convert to Judaism for him. First, it would ruin the surprise. Second, I might hurl.”

Speaking of, I text myself a reminder to send an invoice to my client for his super-secret spying mission. I’ll be charging extra for the fire-escape episode. If you’re going to pay an investigator to snoop on your fiancée for you, you deserve to get gouged.